Choosing a cloud provider? There’s a good chance there’s something you’re missing in your selection criteria.
Everyone looks at the obvious “must-haves”: Do they have the right services; are there any API compatibility issues; can I move workloads easily to other regions or availability zones easily; and what’s the total cost of ownership likely to be? But here’s something many evaluation teams can easily skip: What does each prospective service provider’s user interface look like, and what’s the experience likely to be for developers and engineers?
User experience is a big deal from the first day. It directly impacts how productive your team will be in setting up services, tuning different instance types, and navigating the inevitable learning curve for a new provider.
If you take a long, hard look at the user interface of each cloud provider on your short list, you’ll notice something right away: Providers with the longest list of services that they proudly tout typically also have the most complex user interfaces. Complexity demands ramp up time and invites confusion that can frustrate your team and endanger the proper provisioning of the services you really need.
Consider this metaphor: You’re a chef, and your kitchen is filled with all the most amazing tools to do your job. Everything you need to handle the dinner rush is somewhere in that kitchen, but if you’re looking for a chef’s knife and you have to hunt for it among the noodle spiralizer and the air fryer, you’re going to lose valuable time and end up frustrating your team, your customers, and yourself. Stated more directly: Is the interface designed for the experience of the person who will be using it every day making them as efficient as possible?
Feature bloat and interface sprawl are often significant impediments to efficiency. Of course, you’ll want to ensure you have all the services you need — both for now and in anticipation of future growth. But once you’re sure your bases are covered, don’t be satisfied with asking: “What else can I get?” The better questions are: “How efficiently will I be able to work in this space? How easy will it be to teach this interface to others? If I have a question, how easily will I find a solution through their documentation and support services?”
When comparing his use of alternative cloud provider Linode to AWS, I love how Johnny Nguyen describes it: “AWS — you log in, and the UI looks like a cockpit, with 99% of it being clutter you don’t need. It’s anxiety-producing, or as someone described it to me, ‘So complicated that it’s almost simpler to go build something yourself.’” Johnny runs two hosting businesses, so efficiency is key to him and his customers.
Then there’s Chris Alfano, whose software engineering and design firm relies on alternatives to cloud providers like AWS, Google, and Azure: “I have used and still use all of them, but their sheer number of services is a means to create lock-in for what should be a commodity, making it hard, if not impossible, to migrate to another provider.”
It’s an opinion echoed industry wide. Corey Quinn, Chief Cloud Economist at The Duckbill Group, has been talking about this for years. “The AWS Console is clearly built by multiple teams, some of which very obviously despise people,” said Corey in a post back in 2019.
Alternative cloud providers like Linode, DigitalOcean, and OVHcloud provide the necessary interfaces developers expect, including an intuitive, web-based cloud manager, robust API and CLI. They also offer plugins for infrastructure as code tools like Terraform and Ansible that simplify automation by making complex cloud systems more manageable.
When evaluating cloud providers, be sure to spend some time in each cloud provider’s user interface. If you can see everything you need and you don’t have to wade through products you’ll never use, the chances are the cloud environment was designed for your use case; and it will fit much better into your everyday work life than a one-size-fits-all solution intended to please everyone from gamers to quantum computing specialists.
Blair Lyon is head of cloud experience for Akamai. In his role, Lyon helps accelerate innovation by making cloud computing simple, accessible, and affordable to all. He has over 25 years of experience building businesses and delivering award-winning solutions, and previously served in executive leadership roles with Capgemini and Dynamic Yield.