Evaluating public cloud alternatives calls for careful consideration of cost, return on investment, service-level agreements and the provider's philosophy. Getting a philosophical match requires a close look at the cloud services provider's culture, technology strategies, control-sharing approach and the value added by its user and partner communities.
Start by ensuring strategies align between your organization and the prospective provider. What the provider is thinking may not be evident on its Web sites or in marketing materials. It's important to ask pointed questions to providers early on. Construct questions that will get you the most feedback, such as these:
- Technologically-speaking, do potential partners approach the cloud as nothing more than server timesharing, or are their products based on specific cloud-style services (with a foundation in virtualization, redundancy, etc.)?
- Is the potential cloud services provider's plan to grow by strengthening its core offerings and providing complementary services or products? Is it planning to branch into other arenas that could siphon resources and attention away?
- Does the provider's history suggest a change in its pricing model that will not meet needs down the road?
Another important aspect centers on control. Specifically, who has how much and in what areas? This conversation may have already commenced internally in an attempt to convince others that it's acceptable to have information live behind someone else's firewall. It's critical to engage in the same discussion with prospective providers, too, since their responses will directly impact efficiency and satisfaction.
- Who handles user and feature administration? Self-service is an important consideration to clarify early on. Some may consider asking a partner to do something a waste of time and energy, while others find the DIY approach a distraction from regular work.
- Is the cloud service open enough to support ready interoperability and integration with existing systems? Are there APIs to write to and support for Web services? As with the preceding bullet, who is enabled to do the work?
- Who's ultimately responsible for the care and protection of cloud-based data? While it may seem obvious that the provider would be, the devil is in the details that appear in the service agreement. When compliance push comes to legal shove, your organization could end up being in the hot seat. To avoid this, it's essential to understand the provider's standing before committing to anything.
A third critical philosophical arena involves the cloud services provider's tolerance and support for any community that may surround its offering. Some may want an enterprise to deal only with them, while others may prefer for third parties to carry their torch forward. It's important to gauge which school of thought is the best fit and decide accordingly.
- Are there official ecosystems of outside organizations that provide add-on utilities or additional support?
- Are there user groups to join for advice from fellow customers? Are the groups officially sanctioned by the providers, or are they viewed as being rogue organizations? Were the groups formed to fill an informational vacuum?
- Are there other customers in the industry or application area that can be spoken to before signing up? Are the prospective providers new to issues relevant to your company? This may not be a reason to exclude a provider from consideration, especially if it's offering something especially innovative or relevant. However, it is something to think about since you may not want to be the guinea pig if it can be avoided.
At the end of the day, a cloud services partner needs to be selected that can do what is necessary in the appropriate way. Since a lot of this reflects fundamental philosophy, taking time to learn how candidates think is vital to making a successful match and, of course, the quality of the technology itself.
About the author:
Steve Weissman has a 20-year track record of innovation and success in helping organizations derive maximum total value from their IT solutions. A seasoned consultant, analyst, and professional trainer, he uses his keen strategy, business, and technology skills to identify, measure and mesh his clients' needs and goals, and recommend effective best practices for managing processes, content and data. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 617-383-4655.
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