Cloud

Choosing a cloud provider: Bringing business and IT together

As the public cloud industry matures, more companies will face the challenge of choosing the right cloud provider. It's not a decision to be made in isolation.

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By now, most organizations have thought about migration to the cloud and evaluated top class cloud IaaS providers. Presumably all these organizations did their best to be diligent when investigating potential cloud suppliers. In the real world there is never enough time, money or resources to do a complete evaluation, but something must be done. The dangers of shadow IT are spreading. How does an organization evaluate potential suppliers?

Do they evaluate the mechanism that makes the cloud service tick? Few people decide to buy a car after examining the fuel injection system, bearings, steering column, and all the other moving parts. Won’t most buy the car because it is a pretty color?

Does the enterprise buyer assume the technology must be fine, and it’s the customer service that is important? After all, if you look at the big picture then cloud computing is all pretty much of a muchness. You know, in the same way all buses have seats, all trains have toilets, and all airlines serve food.

Or does a decision maker trust the choices of others? If a cloud provider is popular, it must be good. Many people like punk rock, therefore I will like punk rock.

Evaluate the nuts and bolts inside the cloud

What does a cloud provider give to customers? It has a range of components for customers to use. The cloud goody bag contains components like these.

Technical people working in IT love peering inside the machine and figuring out how it works. If they hear about disk I/O problems, they have a hard look at performance. They do complex experiments to figure out if the enterprise organization’s complicated apps perform on these remote virtual machines.

Business leaders and other business administrators should not carry out technical evaluations of cloud providers. Leave it to the IT department. For most people, the technical part of the cloud service is a black box - it’s where the magic happens. Work put into sending RFPs, organizing committees, drawing up shortlists, and capturing results won’t help the technically illiterate to make the right choice. They may as well be rolling dice.  

Evaluate the customer service around the cloud

Since most people can’t distinguish cloud computing from magic, providers promote their customer service.

  • the quality of the helpdesk
  • what the SLA promises
  • relationship with the supplier

Usually the first thing a prospective cloud customer looks at is the price. How much does cloud infrastructure cost compared to local kit? How much will it cost to cloudify apps?

Cloud services don’t necessarily cost less than on-premise IT. A higher projected price might end an evaluation, causing the enterprise to park the idea until next year.

Cost isn’t the only factor. It’s not even the most important factor. How can an organization quantify the value of removing the stress of managing computer hardware?

The IT department should not evaluate SLAs or cost benefits. Leave it to the business administrators.

Is it safe to just follow the crowd?

Which cloud providers does an organization pick for the shortlist? They can’t examine all providers - there are just too many. Market reports are a good way of finding out who the market leaders are and using them for an evaluation. How about choosing three cloud providers from a Gartner Magic Quadrant report?

Nobody is looking for perfection. If a supplier organization is providing a reasonable service for others, it’s safe to assume they can provide a reasonable service to the evaluator.

What most organizations do

Due diligence requires an examination of the technical components, but there won’t be many surprises. The technical bar for cloud providers is set pretty high. It’s a given that all cloud providers must offer on-demand build, customer self-service, huge pools of resources to allow customers to scale out, usage measurement, and metered billing.

Customer service is also going to be pretty solid from the popular cloud providers. If cloud providers need to make sure customers stick around, they must be putting some effort into making themselves stand out from the crowd. This strengthens customer service.

The biggest influence when picking a cloud provider is not cold rational analysis – it’s the power of the crowd. The same networking effect that organizes our lives also directs the choice of cloud provider. Following the crowd is considered a pretty safe bet.

Work together to make the best choice

In reality, organizations considering cloud providers should get input from decision makers across the enterprise. Technical experts inside the IT department (or hired consultants) should evaluate the actual technology and make sure it will perform as required. Business and legal staff should review the service level agreements, and -- particularly in heavily regulated industries like finance and healthcare -- they must ensure that providers have the right security and compliance certifications. Finally, there will be the financial and C-level executives who weigh the cost benefits and potential risks.

As you can see, choosing a cloud provider is a decision that involves stakeholders in many different areas and closing out any one of them could have negative consequences down the road. 


About

Nick Hardiman builds and maintains the infrastructure required to run Internet services. Nick deals with the lower layers of the Internet - the machines, networks, operating systems, and applications. Nick's job stops there, and he hands over to the ...

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