Choosing a cloud provider? Five questions to ask

January 2019

Powder explosionMonica Brink, EMEA Marketing Director, iland, reveals five key questions that you should be asking when selecting a cloud provider that will make your CEO happy.

It will come as no surprise to those of you already leveraging cloud services that Forrester Research1 predicted that, in 2018, cloud computing will become a must-have business technology. The scalability, agility and cost model allow IT teams to redirect their energy toward accelerating business initiatives without worrying about costly infrastructure investments.

As many have learned, however, it’s important when evaluating cloud providers to look closely at various elements of their services. Comparing quotes and services from different providers isn’t comparing apples to apples.

Make sure you take into account the compatibility, accessibility, visibility, resiliency, security and support that is associated with the services from any provider - along with any indirect or intangible costs that may result from making the switch.

So, where do you begin? What questions do you ask as you evaluate cloud providers? After more than a decade spent helping customers migrate to the cloud for hosting, backup and disaster recovery use cases, here are some key questions we’ve identified:

What software and hardware technologies does the cloud provider utilise?

Establish whether or not your cloud service provider (CSP) is using the same hypervisor (computer software, firmware or hardware that creates and runs virtual machines) that you use on-premises. This is important to maintain compatibility with what you have today and to allow the transfer of existing skill sets.

The goal is to free up IT’s time so they can add value to the business, not mire them in reinventing the wheel. For VMware users, a VMware-native cloud provider enables seamless migration of your on-premises workloads to the cloud without any messy conversions.

Ensure that you ascertain whether they are using similar or better enterprise grade compute and storage infrastructure. At the end of the day, the cloud is just someone else’s infrastructure. You need it to be as high-performing, resilient and reliable as the equipment you would install in your own data centre. For your enterprise applications, you need to ensure consistent and high performance for business-critical workloads.

You also want to make sure that the equipment utilised at the network layer is resilient, consistent, flexible and a good fit from a technology perspective. You need to make sure it can seamlessly co-exist with your existing network environment, and that can you create a true hybrid cloud between everything.

Determine what the service-level agreement (SLA) from the cloud provider is for availability. SLAs are critical when dealing with a cloud provider because you are no longer in control of maintenance windows, hardware upgrades or service outages. You want to know upfront if their environment is truly resilient and ensure that you understand what the expectations are from you and the cloud provider.

Does the provider give you the same level of transparency and management capabilities in the cloud that you have on-premises?

IT teams often find that a wide range of the traditional tools and features they’re used to on-premises are unavailable in the cloud. Upon making the switch to a cloud provider, they no longer have visibility into storage metrics, hypervisor utilisation or even network topology.

To avoid this, thoroughly assess the tools you need to have insight into your environment to deliver business value. Evaluate the risk and impact of not having management capabilities and visibility. It is important to understand exactly what you need, and what is available with the providers you’re considering. Ask yourself what tools the vendor provides, from remote access, via VPN, all the way up to an integrated console.

Let the cloud provider worry about infrastructure metrics so you can focus on monitoring your applications and provisioned networks.

What are the migration options to the cloud?

It is important to evaluate how you will migrate into a new environment with the least amount of reconfiguration and change as possible. Account for details like the technologies you have in place, your networking specifications and if you have any physical workloads to consider. To help make the migration as smooth as possible, ask yourself:

  • What do I need to move?
  • How will I get it there?
  • What technologies and tools does the provider use while assisting their customers during the transition?
  • Do they provide a managed migration service?

Does the cloud provider have options to support third-party networking capabilities?

As more and more organisations embrace the hybrid cloud, they look to leverage the network providers they utilise on-premises within their cloud solutions. This lessens the overhead of mixed technologies and mixed skill sets and lets an organisation make communication simple and seamless between all of their systems.

Ask the cloud provider what technologies are supported and who manages those systems. Are devices provisioned for you, or is it self-service deployment? Is it virtual or physical? Who manages the device once it’s installed, and will it support help with connection issues?

Connectivity is paramount to continuous business operations from your site to the cloud, and cloud networking can be complex. Choose a provider who can work with your existing environment to lessen the overall impact.

What about compliance and security in the cloud?

It is increasingly important to think about security and compliance when running both on-premises and cloud workloads. When implementing a hybrid cloud environment, make sure that you evaluate whether the cloud providers you are considering include built-in security and compliance tools that are available on the cloud platform itself.

These tools need to be as robust as, or even more than, what you currently have in your data centre. Be sure to ask how manageable these are and the visibility and alerting available. You should also find out how your service provider assists with best practice and remediation action, and if there are compliance and security teams to help out.

You also want to clarify the distinction between the compliance you have on your data, and the compliance that the cloud provider brings with its environment. Understand where the line is and how you can work together with the provider to maintain your security and compliance requirements.

As data protection laws and regulations come into place, especially with the onset of Brexit and GDPR, you want to verify that the cloud provider handles your data according to data sovereignty and data locale laws. You may be in a situation in which data cannot leave a certain country or geographic region.

Make sure you understand how your cloud provider leverages their load balancing technology. You’ll want to know if this is regulated for you, and if the provider can guarantee data sovereignty and that it is not sent somewhere it shouldn’t be.

The journey to the cloud is all about removing the overhead of infrastructure and focusing IT resources on delivering value to the business. Choosing a cloud provider is one of the biggest IT challenges out there.

The cloud provider needs to be able to meet your existing needs across capacity, services, support, security and compliance and be able to scale and grow for your future goals. Moving to the cloud is a major investment and choosing wisely the first time will avoid the pain of moving providers and the challenges that can bring.

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