What to look for in a cloud service provider

What to look for in a cloud service provider
Mathew Zele, business development manager, Cloud, NetApp Australia and New Zealand

There is no longer a question mark over whether ‘to cloud or not to cloud’. The benefits of transitioning to the cloud have become undeniably clear for businesses; it can drastically increase IT agility, enhance an organisation’s ability to efficiently respond to changing market conditions by simplifying IT management, and deliver significant cost reductions.

The question for businesses looking to make this transition is “how do we choose the right cloud service provider for our business?”. The matter of clarifying IT priorities and matching these with an appropriate cloud provider can be more difficult than it appears, and selecting the right provider is an enormous challenge facing organisations.

However, making this decision with thoughtful consideration can have immense cost and management benefits for the business. Being systematic about evaluating the options on offer can mean enormous advantages both now and in the future, and it is a process that can be simplified to three key areas:

1. Determining requirements and success factors

Comparing cloud offerings can be complex, and there are numerous questions up for consideration. Organisations must consider factors ranging from data sovereignty and control, security and technical standards, legal and compliance issues, to the cost of migration and support.

As such, before moving to the cloud, it is crucial to align the IT approach closely to the overall business strategy. Ultimately, while execution will happen incrementally, it’s essential to think big; defining roadmaps and the requirements of the business for both now and the future.

One component of determining IT requirements is evaluating the applications that are of importance to the organisation, and categorising these based on business needs. Non-core applications, or those that are not necessarily business-critical, are often good candidates for public cloud. Core defined services may be better placed in on-premise clouds with the ability to scale into public cloud if required.

Core IT applications that are moderately ‘dynamic’ (meaning they are required to adapt to changing business contexts, but don’t need self-service) may be housed on a private cloud or on exiting virtualized infrastructure. Finally, applications that are unique to a business and typically static on optimised hardware will most likely remain in-house.

2. Identifying and screening service providers

Once the big picture roadmap has been developed and application workloads assesed, IT departments are in a far better position to evaluate and specify selection criteria for choosing a cloud provider.

Key areas for inclusion in the criteria include:

  • Contract management: Working with several service providers means managing more contracts, which could generate the need to employ new staff to handle these contracts. Alternatively, fewer service providers means fewer contracts in play, but could result in more complicated contracts. Consider how many contracts the organisation can feasibly manage with the available resources, and whether it would be possible to employ new staff to be responsible for contract management
  • Security and compliance: Consideration should be paid to what policies the business has in place and what additional compliance issues will come into play with each different service provider
  • Service-level agreements: Of critical importance here is not only what the organisation must be able to offer internally to employees, but also what is acceptable to your end-users. Clearly define what you want in terms of speed and quality of service, and be sure to include these measurable outcomes in your selection criteria
  • Costs and return on investment: Factor in your internal costs and compare the return on investment of the various cloud offerings your are considering

3. Making a decision and moving forward

After having evaluated the options according to the criteria and identified which providers will drive the most value for your business, it’s time to make the move.

In doing so, start with a single workload. If necessary, start with a proof-of-concept to test that provider. Trying to do too much, too soon, is a pitfall in transitioning to the cloud, especially after laying such strong groundwork in selecting the right provider. Migrating incrementally offers an opportunity to see if (and how) it will work in a practical sense.

Ensure someone has been allocated responsibility for project management of the migration. This is non-negotiable. If the right skills don’t exist in-house, employ third-party consultants and systems integrators. Moving to the cloud involves a significant shift in the way business processes are managed, so it’s fundamentally important to engage the right people to handle this change.

The cloud is all about partnerships, and at NetApp, we are proud to say that we have over 175 cloud partners in our program delivering services both locally and globally to solve business problems. Finding the right cloud service providers for your business is as crucial a decision as seeking a partner in any other aspect of business operations, and one that requires a clear vision of your business objectives and goals before you start the journey.