Whether you are a large enterprise, a small business or a developer looking to build the next great startup, the challenges of choosing a cloud service provider are complex. Your cloud needs might outgrow the cloud service provider's datasheets quickly, so you need a provider that will grow with you. Here's a list of six considerations to help guide you in choosing the right cloud provider for you and your business:
1) Uptime and SLAs: Uptime matters. It matters a lot, especially when your business runs online and your customers seek information and engagement through your website. Think about what would happen if your website experienced an outage during the holidays. It not only affects the business, but also thousands of customers.
If your website and web applications are core to your business, consider investing the time to look at your service provider’s uptime history. How often do they have outages? How do they handle outages? What are their guarantees? What kind of service level agreements do you have in place? Is it a complicated CYA or a simple, easy to understand guarantee? Are there remediation guarantees? Is service truly the service provider’s strength? (Take a look at Rackspace’s Cloud SLA page and tell us if you think our SLA is simple enough to understand without intimidating and complex legalese.)
2) Cloud Choice: Not all clouds are the same. A cloud that is built on open source is very different from one built on close proprietary models. There are numerous examples in technology to prove how “open” is better than proprietary. Open means there is no vendor lock-in. You can take your workload from one open cloud vendor to another one, or even run your own. And you can get service and support from a broad ecosystem of providers (There are roughly 200 companies from startups to large tech firms that contribute to OpenStack, the open source project that Rackspace co-founded, and upon which Rackspace Cloud is built). Open also gets more innovation into the product in the long run as more communities of developers and engineers join the project and contribute to the common good. It’s nearly impossible for a single firm to hire, train and deliver that type of model for sustained periods. (Watch this video on why open is good for everyone.)
3) Deployment Models: If you are a startup thinking of spinning up a couple of servers today and building your brand new application on the web, most commodity service providers will look attractive to you. But what happens when your needs outgrow the provider’s capabilities in hosting and servicing your needs beyond the public cloud? Similarly, if you are a large enterprise, chances of uprooting your entire data center and putting all your workloads on a public cloud tomorrow are next to zero. What if you could use the public cloud for only specific workloads and run the others in your data center or private cloud or in a collocation facility? Does your cloud service provider offer you those flexible deployment models? (See how Mazda uses Rackspace’s hybrid hosting technologies.)
4) Cloud Expertise: An often overlooked part of the journey to the cloud is the access to experts who can guide you with industry best practices on design, architecture and operations management of your cloud applications. In-house skills are either not available or are prohibitively expensive for small businesses and large businesses alike, especially in short term engagement scenarios. The ability to tap into a pool of experts at your service provider instead of yet another third-party consulting firm is a key time-to-market need for your business. Does your service provider give you an online FAQ page and community forum? Does it have real people standing at the ready to assist in your cloud journey? (See the blog post Value of a Managed Cloud for an example.)
5) Customers: At the end of the day, it is the service provider’s customers whose testimonials matter the most. But it is important to see how well the testimonials match up with the performance of the provider. Be wary of customers going out on a limb to support the service provider, but the service provider dies not match that with uptime. The key question to ask is: does the cloud provider have the DNA of a service provider? Selling technology products is not the same as selling a service. Service is an engagement. Products are typically transactional. (See the blog post Why Rackspace is the No. 1 Hosting Provider for the Top 1,000 Internet Retailers.)
6) Cost: Most cloud provider comparisons start with cost. The problem with that approach is that it diminishes the importance of all the key considerations that customers really care about and that their businesses depend on. Cloud computing is a better economic model than the traditional data center model without question. But if your decision is based on cost alone, the business outcome could be worse than not doing it at all. Comparing pricing pages of differentiated cloud service providers with undifferentiated commodity providers is meaningless. There are huge hidden costs to your business in cloud architecture, cloud migration, cloud deployment model flexibility and cloud support that are not captured in a simple pricing table that shows the cost of renting a server or storing a file for a period of time. Talk to your provider and ask what kind of advisory services they offer and what they charge for those services. (You may get lucky and get them on the phone or Internet chat!)
This list will get you ready for your journey to the cloud. Have more ideas or considerations? Please let us know.