After Nirvanix: How to assess the right cloud provider for you

By Nigel Beighton, VP of Technology, International, Rackspace

Choosing a cloud service provider is an important decision for any organisation. Cloud computing plays a central role in many businesses – from startups and SMBs to global companies – and usually involves entrusting service providers with mission-critical data and applications.

To assess potential providers and make the right choice, conducting due diligence across the following areas is essential.

Financials: As the recent closure of Nirvanix shows, it’s crucial to check a prospective provider’s financial position: past, present and future. If they are to be trusted with your data, they need to demonstrate that they have been, and should remain, financially sound.

So look for evidence of financial stability and growth over time; ask them about their financial prospects. Running a data centre requires major ongoing investment of capital, not to mention the substantial labour costs and operational budget. Are they in a good position to support your IT and business objectives over the long term?

Performance track record: Customer testimonials are vital to assessing vendors, but they aren’t everything. Check how well they match up with the supplier’s performance.  If there’s a mismatch, raise the alarm and investigate further.

With cloud services, the clue is in the name: it’s a service, an engagement – and a complex and extensive engagement at that, which can be critical to the success of your business. So the key question is: does the cloud provider have the track record of a top service provider, and do its customers vouch for this?

Expertise: Creating and running a successful cloud is like winning a Formula 1 race: no matter how good the driver and the car are you need a good pit crew working both on and off the track before, during and after the race. This means having ready access to tech experts at your cloud supplier, not just for support, but to help you with the design, architecture and operations management of your cloud applications.

Check out prospective suppliers’ expertise levels and the support they offer. If you call their helpline, can you get through to someone who knows what they’re talking about?

SLAs: Review potential service providers’ uptime histories, especially if the success of your business depends upon the strength of your website and web applications. Look for how often outages happen, and how they are handled. Also take time to review the guarantees they proffer; in particular their service level agreements. Are they labyrinthine in their complexity, or are there simple, easy to understand assurances? What remediation is offered?

Flexibility: Assess the flexibility of your potential cloud provider’s deployment models. Do they offer a few commodity services, or a broad portfolio spanning dedicated servers and public, private and hybrid clouds, all backed up by comprehensive, expert support?

If your cloud needs are modest, the former may be attractive, but things could start to look ugly if / when your requirements grow. If you are a large company, then chances are a more complex cloud solution, such as a hybrid cloud – mixing the security of a private cloud and the scalability of a public one – would be a good fit.

Open vs. Closed: You may not know that clouds can be ‘open’ or ‘closed’, but it’s a crucial consideration when choosing a cloud provider. A cloud built on an open source platform – e.g. OpenStack – allows you to avoid vendor lock-in and the pricing, service or pace of innovation limits that a single supplier of closed, proprietary clouds may impose.

An open cloud therefore can help future-proof your investment and gives you more choice and flexibility: you can move your apps from one open cloud vendor to another, or you maybe even run your own.

Cost: This is important, but beginning your cloud comparisons here lessens the significance of what really matters. Focus on the business outcome(s) you want first, and review providers and their costs based on what they can offer as a solution. A simple pricing table that shows the cost of renting a server or storing a file for a period of time may miss the costs for things that are critical to your desired business outcome, including cloud migration and cloud support.

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