Why Performance Versus Promise Matters in the Cloud World

When choosing a cloud vendor, don't just look at SLA promises—look at past performance and how good a partner a vendor will be in the future.

Industry analysts project that global software-as-a-service (SaaS) spending will continue to grow, from $49B in 2015 to $67B in 2018. IDC research supports this, suggesting that SaaS revenues are growing nearly five times faster than traditional software products. With this in mind, cloud really is now a reality for businesses today. And, as more companies come to trust and rely upon the cloud, many are increasingly focusing their attention on requirements such as service availability and performance.

After all, modern enterprises rely on the cloud for their most critical business systems, so it’s absolutely imperative that these applications are available and can be scaled up or down as needed. This reliability builds trust, and with that trust comes a relationship between vendor and customer that can develop into a long-term engagement. Equally important, from a vendor perspective, is that trust helps inspire customer satisfaction, which is the critical metric for success in the cloud world.

As more business applications move to a multi-tenant cloud deployment model, software vendors are being challenged to satisfy their entire customer base with a single service-level agreement (SLA). Consumers have become accustomed to their user experience with companies such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn—services that rarely have any downtime longer than a browser refresh. Although some service interruptions are necessary and even mandatory—such as for major version updates—the expectation exists that they should be brief and unobtrusive.

As well as having seamless availability, customers also want their applications to stay up-to-date. Historically this meant systems that had to be shut down by vendors during updates. The headaches associated with major upgrades of on-premise systems can leave customers months out of date in terms of maintenance updates, and with some vendors, there is a patchwork of service packs and bolt-on products to ensure users have the latest features. Extended downtime and an almost perpetual state of running yesterday’s version isn’t a recipe for keeping customers happy.

Cloud vendors must continually earn customer’s trust if they want to extend the relationship

It’s at this junction of availability, reliability, and running the latest system that the journey to zero downtime really becomes important. Service availability in today’s connected, always-on world is a whole different ball game to the legacy client/server world. In the cloud computing era, the responsibility for uptime and availability falls on the supplier’s shoulders.

So we give our customers a single SLA, and that approach fits in with the way we think about the design and delivery of our product – one codeline, one version, and one customer community. Workday’s journey to zero downtime has been in motion for some time: We’ve reduced the time required to roll out a major update to approximately four hours for the Workday 26 feature release down from 25 hours in Workday 22. That’s very different to the on-premise ERP upgrade experience, which normally requires months of planning and weeks of fixes. We also give customers early access to new features in a preview release before pushing updates live. This gives customers an opportunity to test out new features and plan for adoption. And because every customer is on the same version, if an issue does crop up, we fix it once and every customer gets the fix at the same time.

As more businesses shift to the cloud, questions are also being asked about the transparency of SLAs. Do you know the specifics of your SLA? Are there any clauses in your contract that allow unscheduled downtime and still allow the vendor to meet the agreed-upon SLA? Any lack of transparency around SLAs is something customers should avoid.

Workday’s vision has served us well, and with a 98% customer satisfaction rate, we’d argue that it really is not the SLA promise customers should be thinking about when they look at the cloud, but more their chosen vendor’s past performance and how good of a partner they will be in the future. Workday has delivered 99.9% availability over the past two years.

In the cloud world, vendors must continually earn the customer’s trust if they want to extend the relationship long-term, because with a subscription model, the customer truly is in control. For this reason, it really is about performance rather than promises that matter for businesses moving to the cloud today.

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