Lady Gaga’s Three Lessons on the Cloud

A few days ago Amazon decided to promote its Cloud Drive service by releasing the new Lady Gaga album, “Born This Way” for 99 cents – effectively at a 91.2% discount over the same product available at iTunes and other retail outlets. As someone who has never fought his way into a Wal-Mart to buy a twelve dollar DVD player on Black Friday, or someone who doesn’t have any of the Lady Gaga collection (although I might admit to innocuously tapping my feet to a Gaga tune while it’s playing at Starbucks as I wait for my Soy Chai), this was hard for me to relate to. However, after spending some time consulting on this momentous event with my kids aged 9 and 14, some of their friends, and a couple of random people seated next to me on a commercial flight, I’ve concluded the following.

Ubiquity of Internet Access makes the Cloud a highly effective distribution medium

Whether we are at our homes, workplaces, standing in line at Starbucks, on a remote Caribbean Island, in our vehicles, or wherever – we find a way to access the Internet. Whether it is 4G, 3G, Wi-Fi, DSL, Cable modem, satellite connected Internet access on an airline flight, technology gives us a way to seek out Lady Gaga, no matter where on the planet we are. And we can do so in the privacy of our own environments, dressed in a tuxedo at a black tie event, in our pajamas at home, with little or no lead time to prepare, drive, or even have to get up from our couches. Thus the term Internet Time. With no disrespect to my ecommerce friends, their jobs in rapidly creating a distribution network for a product are radically simplified relative to what they were before Lady Gaga was born.

The cloud often does not change the rules of the brick and mortar world – It simply changes the speed at which rules are broken

Consider this. The Friday after Thanksgiving – the official start of the Christmas shopping season – a single day which, for reasons I have yet to fully comprehend, defines and sets the tone for a retailers’ success for the year – the day named Black Friday (a rather unapt name in my view for the onset of the season of joy and cheer) – is one where retailers often offer their deepest discounts on the most wanted products. We read stories every year on the person who showed up at 4 am, waited outside in the cold for four hours, and ended up getting trampled by the mob on the way in spending the holiday season in traction at the local hospital, hopefully thrilled that they managed to get their hands on a Blu-Ray player for $19.99, which will be defunct by next year thanks to Netflix, Hulu, iTunes and other video-on-demand services.

Now consider this hypothetical situation: A retailer, let’s call it Worst Sell, decided to sell a sleek 50” flat screen 3D LCD TV which normally retails for $2,000, at the Lady Gaga discount rate of 91.2% for $176. Imagine what kinds of lines this would draw at your local Worst Sell. We all take risks in our lives and bear inconveniences using a pretty basic cost benefit analysis model. The greater the potential benefit, the more likely a rational individual would be to take a risk or to inconvenience themselves to avail of that benefit. In all likelihood, the number of people who would line up for hours to risk getting trampled to purchase a $2000 TV for $176 would be greater than the number of individuals who would do so to buy a $99 Blu-Ray player for $20. And oh, when the doors open, the TV crowd would likely be more aggressive than the Blu-Ray folks, making it even more likely that someone would get trampled on the way in.

Now in order to mitigate problems like this Worst Sell, and other retailers would have to do a range of things, including providing adequate security, mechanisms for streamlined flow, mechanisms to ensure that there are sufficient alternate access mechanisms for patrons of other non-retail businesses in the building, that someone visiting their cardiologist would be able to get there through a separate entrance into the building. That the person trying to visit Tiffany’s in the same mall, which is not having a blowout sale on 2 carat engagement rings, has a way to get in quicker. That Worst Sell and the building management have adequate mechanisms to test for the ability of the building and store to manage such capacity, and that they have mechanisms in place to mitigate damage and disaster. That the aisleways and doorways are adequately sized. Why do we expect this to be any different in the Cloud?

 Amazon does not define the Cloud – it is one of many outlets

In recent weeks, between the Lady Gaga album release, and Amazon’s AWS multi-day outage for a few days it became a stigma to call oneself a cloud provider. However to compare a range of Enterprise-Class Cloud Service Providers to Amazon is somewhat like comparing PAETEC’s enterprise class Voice over IP services to a residential-class VoIP provider. Those home providers may be great companies providing a valuable, affordable telephony services to the masses, and have quite an innovative product set for residential customers and small businesses at a very affordable price. Windstream is focused on providing high grades of reliable resilient services in a highly secure fashion on private secured, end-to-end Quality of Service enabled networks. Similarly, AWS and Amazon Cloud Storage are innovative, affordable, cloud platforms that enable everyone, at a very affordable price to host their services in the cloud. It empowers my 14 year old son to write his own software, and in a very affordable way make it accessible to the world. And I commend the likes of Amazon and Google for commoditizing the cloud to the masses just as companies like Vonage did so with Voice over IP services. But to draw an analogy to the types of cloud services that Windstream provides a major hospital in Philadelphia, storing, securing, and providing highly reliable private connectivity to a large volume of data including confidential patient records, information whose timely and secure availability is critical to the lives and health of patients, and whose constant availability even in the advent of a disaster is critical to the functioning of the medical facilities, is simply wrong.

We learn from Lady Gaga that we need to be no less smart when we leverage the cloud to be efficient, as a distribution mechanism, or to build and scale our businesses effectively. We learn from Lady Gaga that we all have different roles in the cloud. I for one am thrilled that these lessons continually reinforce the cloud foundations we've built at Windstream, ranging from highly scalable, secure, and resilient carrier class IP networks with a wide range of industry leading cloud based security and disaster recovery services. Our focus on rigid change management processes and managing an environment is vastly different that trying to deliver Lady Gaga’s new album for a song (pun intended) to tens of millions. In the Windstream environment, Lady Gaga would have a hard time saying “Wha-Wha-What did you say? Oh, you're breaking up on me…Sorry, I cannot hear you, I'm kinda busy.” I think after this education, I am a Lady Gaga fan! Time to go download the latest album…