CIOs are regularly preoccupied with keeping costs low while still providing a robust and future-proofed IT infrastructure. Given that there are so many cloud vendors out there, how can CIOs gauge which ones are going to provide the proper service level to their companies? Here are a few questions to ask about any potential cloud provider that may help you separate the contenders from the pretenders. Remember, the quality of the answers is only as good as the quality of the questions asked.
Are they helping you avoid cloud-vendor lock-in?
Choosing to build your cloud on closed technologies is a recipe for vendor lock-in. Building an application with proprietary APIs and proprietary middleware is not a smart decision in these ever more connected times.
- What if you reach a dead end using the vendor’s technology layer? A dead end here means that there’s literally something the technology can’t do.
- It will be difficult to extend your application outward if you’re locked into your vendor’s cloud.
CIOs should partner with a vendor that leverages open technologies for their infrastructure. They should understand APIs and the cloud integration necessary to get all of their cloud resources talking to each other.
Do they use AWS, or another platform that is not garden-walled?
Amazon AWS is generally more expensive than its cloud competitors, but companies will often feel more secure opting for Amazon’s cloud ecosystem. There’s a saying among sysadmins that you basically won’t get fired if you opt for AWS. If AWS ever goes down, their reach so wide that the entire Internet will know about it. But don’t count on the same predictability if you opt for a niche cloud provider.
But companies don’t have to stick with Amazon if they want the backing of a large company behind their cloud services. The Google Cloud Platform, IBM Blue Mix and Microsoft Azure are all backed by similarly large companies. Any CIO sceptical of smaller niche providers would probably sleep better at night going with any of these providers. Whichever platform you decide on, you’ll want to stick with industry standard technologies to avoid vendor lock-in. The opposite case is using vendor standard technologies like AWS Lambda and Amazon S3. Vendor specific technologies like these make it difficult to leave Amazon’s walled garden. But using AWS doesn’t mean you have to be locked into their technologies. You can still use AWS with a standard Linux distro and an open-source database like MySQL (instead of Amazon’s DynamoDB). The point is that should you ever need to move, you should be able to port your technology over to a different provider with minimal hassle.
How good are their risk management and security procedures?
Will you have a number to call if things go wrong and you can’t reach their customer support desk? You’ll want more than one level of support you can reach in emergency situations. This will allow you to self-escalate your concerns as needed. You’ll also want to ask if your cloud provider has a tested data and disaster recovery plan in place.
Security should be native to the cloud platform itself. This means that the provider should have an easy to parse reporting infrastructure that transparently shows how your systems are performing. Transparency is an important consideration for seeing what’s happening in the platform at any given time. If these reporting capabilities are absent from the platform, then integrations with Succuri or New Relic might be in order.
You also should have alternate access to a provider’s infrastructure. Besides logging in through their portal, you should have direct access to the servers that are hosted on the platform. Windows clients should have RDP access, while terminal clients will want secure shell access to login directly into your servers. These alternate means of logging in are especially crucial in emergency situations.
Does your cloud provider have a pioneering spirit?
It’s always good to have a cloud provider that keeps up with the latest technologies. If they aren’t rolling the newest developments into their technology stack, your assets could be sitting on an outdated platform in just a few years. You’ll likewise want to check that they’re regularly updating their computing infrastructure. A dream cloud partner is a company who’s flexible enough to give you choices. A CIO should be able to decide where the company’s data assets should live. Ask if your cloud provider can:
- Build capacity on-premise or off-premise as needed.
- Dedicate a section of their data centre specifically for your business.
- Offer geographically diverse cloud computing nodes for faster bandwidth to your target markets.
Is the cloud provider too limited in their capabilities?
Some cloud providers are going to be siloed to provide only certain services. You can find a provider to host Microsoft Exchange or Sharepoint, and you can find someone to provide desktop virtualisation as well as database hosting. But can your cloud computing company integrate between your various silos? These private clouds have to come together to form a seamless infrastructure. The provider needs to have experience getting these various facets of your digital ecosystem interacting together.
A simple example of this would be to look at your database assets. Your cloud infrastructure might have to integrate a variety of services that continuously talk with that database, for example an analytics tool that regularly runs data queries against its records. Your company’s CRM might also need to occasionally pull client records. And you might even have a website component that also queries the database for customer-facing requests. Your virtual data centre would need to bridge the database hosting with these various application requests within its platform. Single silo service providers are just not going to cut it for anything beyond simple applications.
Have they withstood multiple economic downturns?
The fallout from the dot com crash in the late ‘90s affected even the biggest IT companies, as did the global financial crisis. It’s vital to make sure that your provider has a proven track record in being able to survive a significant downturn in the economy. Understand that if you’re dealing with a large enterprise, you should seek clarity as to whether they have a long term strategy around cloud services, or whether it is the introduction of a new service because of its popularity in the marketplace. These are often the first to be pulled when times get tough. Knowing their internal KPI’s to ensure the longevity of the platform will be invaluable.
You may not find a cloud provider that has a good answer for all of these questions, but it will be illuminating to hear how they’re addressing the issue if they fall short. Too many “that will never happen” or “yeah that’s true, but …” answers might mean it’s time to jump to a better cloud.