The Ethics of Cloud Computing – Part 2

​This is part two in a three part series. To read Part One, click here.

Firms also have the moral duty to be honest with the customers regarding security policies, and at times, even system architecture. Many years ago I once found myself in the unfortunate circumstance where a company I was working with had poorly designed network architecture with a massive single point of failure. Eventually, this single point of failure failed in a spectacular way.


This failure brought down the entire system and impacted several customers in significant ways. After the mad scramble to get the system back up and running, it was important for me to visit affected customers to discuss 1) what happened, 2) why it happened and 3) what our plans were to prevent such a failure in the future.

I recall some internal conversations about how to present this information to customers and some were in favor of, not exactly lying, but certainly being misleading so as to obscure the fact our system had such a gaping design flaw to begin with.  I opposed this approach because not only did I feel it was important to be completely honest with customers as a matter of course, but also because our customers were not stupid. While they may not have known specifics, they knew that such a massive failure had to be result of poor design. So any misleading “spin” would not only be immoral in itself, it would also erode trust with customers because they would know we were obfuscating.

The situation I describe above also highlights another ethical principle essential to IT operations. When service providers offer a service that is business-critical for their customers, they have a moral duty to design a system based on IT best practices so as to minimize disruptions and enable fast recovery. Firms who fail to do this are betraying the trust of their customers. Of course, some services are intentionally not built as business-critical with guaranteed uptime of five nines. At times, redundancy, backups, etc., are actually a hindrance to the performance of a system and are not essential. In such cases, service providers must clearly communicate this to customers and outline, precisely, what responsibilities the customer is assuming in terms of backup, redundancy, etc.

Broadly speaking, cloud services providers have a moral duty, similar to, but somewhat distinct from members of the customer IT operations team. That duty is to be responsive.  It is easy for service providers to fall into the trap of thinking that since they provide a self-service product wherein customers can generally manage and resolve many challenges unaided. In such situations it is tempting to focus primarily, if not solely, on the needs of the biggest accounts. There is sense to this as most often, larger accounts pay for certain levels of support and responsiveness; something smaller accounts often forego. However, service providers must not forget that while a major outage impacts larger customers, so also do outages impact the one-person IT consultancy shop who’s sole-proprietor may be working to support a family, pay into a college fund, or plan for retirement. Outages impact everyone, bit or small; regardless of the nature of the business.

Of course, it would be impossible to large service providers to have 1:1 contact with all customers at all times. Therefore, meeting the needs of all customers is not just a matter of having a responsive customer service or support department. Proper customer support begins with proper product design. And this is a never-ending challenge; to design a product that is easy to use and easy to troubleshoot. This, specifically, is where documentation becomes vitally important for a firm seeking to ensure customer success. There is no such thing as a “perfect” product or an ideal service. All products have “undocumented features” and odd quirks. Their existence is to be expected.  However, service providers have it within their power to properly document system or product oddities and to highlight workarounds to aid in getting around existing product or service deficiencies.

In short, service providers have a responsibility to make their customers—big or small—successful. There are a myriad of ways this can be accomplished through proper communication, effective product design, and documentation. No customer, due to their size, should feel less important or less valued than larger customers. Taking care of all customers is not just a moral good, it’s also good for business. Small customers often become large customers and if a service provider has established trust and credibility with these customers, they can expect long-term, and mutually-beneficial relationships with their customers.

This is part two in a three-part series. Stay tuned for a deeper dive into ethical and moral philosophy, and then how to put these ethics into practice.

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