The distinctive features of cloud computing are now widely recognised. Unparalleled processing capabilities, agile virtualisation, and fast Gigabit networking enable enterprises to process more information than ever before at high speed.
Because of its ‘on-demand’ nature, cloud can provide businesses with significant cost reductions compared with traditional computing models. Cloud has also brought flexibility, scalability and performance to enterprise computing, and this can be achieved through private, public or hybrid clouds.
However, it’s important to note that cloud service providers vary greatly in their offerings, technical capabilities, service levels and data centre technologies. It’s therefore prudent to carry out due diligence before signing a contract with a cloud services. Here are ten things to consider:
- Price - Price is important though it shouldn’t be a deciding factor. The cheapest service isn’t always the best one. Take a closer look at the features that each cloud provider offers, and then compare prices with this in mind. Look out for hidden costs, for example for data extraction, legacy application integration, and premium storage. There may be additional bandwidth charges, data access costs, migration fees and internal and external support requirements. Calculating the long term cost of externally provided cloud operations compared with on-premise is also a worthwhile exercise.
- SLAs - Along the same lines, scrutinise a potential service provider’s service level agreement. Try to find out: who is responsible for any losses due to cloud outage; what is the response time to fix failures or respond to customer requests and demands? Also, what is the performance of the service being offered: the response time, throughput, bandwidth, uptime, etc. When it comes to backup, who has the responsibility to carry it out; and where are backups stored? Lastly, what happens if you want to migrate off a certain cloud provider’s infrastructure? How badly could your service be affected during a data centre upgrade or software migration? According to Gartner, service providers differentiate themselves on such things as service reliability, support, ease of management, turnkey deployments and integrated value-add services.
- Scalability - The promise of cloud, and particularly hybrid cloud, is that workloads can be scaled up quickly and massively by bursting out to public cloud. Consequently, the ability for your prospective cloud service provider to scale on demand is an important one. Think of seasonal peaks in workload, or sudden business demand for analytics, workloads that involve floating point calculations, or high-bandwidth multimedia data. Can a cloud service provider’s infrastructure cope with your needs? Web-based enterprises should have growth in mind, and a good cloud services company should be able to accommodate your workloads and future growth.
- Porting to the cloud - If a cloud service provider is offering to migrate a particular legacy application to the cloud, try to understand whether there will be a one-off porting operation. If so, will the application be optimised for the new infrastructure, or left alone, no matter how inefficient it might be once migrated? If so, what sort of monitoring and maintenance will cloud service provider have for your application?
- Security - Cloud security is a maturing area, and one that is still at the top of the list for many enterprises. Cloud service providers can now implement security right across the stack, starting with encryption at the server processor level, running through their virtualisation systems, and right up to user access authentication and controls. How secure is your potential cloud partner? What type of security are they offering; and what data protection standards do they meet? In terms of access control, is it internal – within the data centre – as well as external?
- Expertise - Different providers will have different specialties, so try to look into a company’s specialty or area of expertise before you sign. For example, they may be strong in a particular vendor technology, for example, Microsoft, SAP or Oracle. Or their strength might be in integrating cloud with legacy apps. The data centre engineers might be particularly good at optimising particular workloads for their customers, or they may have strong security credentials.
- Hardware - Does a potential cloud services provider have the latest technologies – server, storage and networking? Are they investing in software-defined infrastructure (SDI), as many cloud service providers are? If so, where are they on the road to having an agile and highly-responsive infrastructure – one where whole workloads can be moved at will, to optimise their performance? Try to find out the extent to which the service provider has implemented virtualisation in servers, storage and networking, and how effective their orchestration is.
- Support - If the service goes down, are you able to call the company and connect with a real person on the phone? Are they able to find out what the problem is and answer your questions? Do they have the right access to engineers who can give them a timeframe for fixing the issue? Also, are staff on call around the clock? Can they be reached in a timely manner? These are good things to find out. Technical support is a really important area to investigate. Talking to existing customers will help you get a sense of how responsive the cloud services firm really is.
- Power - Power is a major data centre concern. You want your cloud services provider to be using power-efficient servers and equipment, because it means its operations are cost efficient. This, in turn, will have an impact on the cost of the service. A cloud service provider’s carbon footprint is also worth trying to get a sense of, in order to know how green their data centres are.
- Extras - Other considerations include how well the cloud service provider will integrate with your private cloud or on-premise systems. Do they expect you to do the bulk of the integration? Will they be able to offer you tools and help, if you need them? Also, what sort of monitoring dashboards do they offer you to keep track of the service? Is there a comprehensive control panel, or is it difficult to monitor the various applications and service levels? Do you have an input into the user interfaces that might be deployed? Are you able to customise them, particularly if the interfaces are non-intuitive and hard to use? If this is the case, then there may be trouble ahead.
Finally, disaster recovery and business continuity are areas worth investigating. Try to find out how well data is backed up and restored in the case of emergency. Make sure you are satisfied with the level of backup, and the speed at which services can be restored if required.
With these things in mind, choosing the right cloud services provider should be straightforward.