For businesses across industries, cloud computing has become a necessary tool to stay operational, agile and competitive. Cloud computing works on a shared service model, which means that both the user — in this case, businesses — and cloud service providers share a certain level of responsibility to one another. Because of this shared responsibility, there are inherent advantages and potential disadvantages that need to be considered before committing to one (or several) providers.
It is important to point out that cloud computing is not an actual technology. It is more of a business concept that utilizes existing internet technologies. Also, because organizations define cloud computing differently, this article will use the National Institute of Standards and Technologies’ definition of cloud computing; the reason is that NIST is a U.S. government agency that manages measurement standards in several areas, including technology. The NIST definition provides a unified, common understanding regardless of the provider.
Here are the factors that organizations need to consider before selecting a cloud services provider:
Pricing and cost that meet YOUR needs: How will the provider charge your business for its services? Will it offer the flexibility to charge by the hour, or is a monthly commitment necessary? Will you be able to monitor your costs in a clear and understandable fashion? If you need to contest charges, does the provider have a clear process you can follow?
Examine cost optimization and scalability: Does the provider support newer cloud service models that can minimize costs, such as serverless computing or Functions as a Service (FaaS), which only charge for what you consume?
Effective scalability: Does the provider allow you to quickly and easily scale up and down resources when you need to? Does the provider provide the tools for you to do this on your own? Or is it necessary to speak to a third party to spin cloud services up?
Look for reputation, reliability and availability: What type of reputation does the provider have? Is it known to be reliable and available? Crowd sourced review sites like G2.com can offer unbiased opinions on cloud-based platforms and services.
Availability is crucial. Vital questions to ask include: How much downtime should you expect? In what ways does the provider try to minimize outages? Most importantly, when downtime occurs, how will the provider compensate you for lost time and resources?
Consider compatibility with your business (openness): Does the provider utilize open source technologies? Would you be able to use the platform with existing applications, infrastructures, or technologies that you currently have?
Conversely, would you need to perform some type of reconfiguration or start over from scratch to make what you currently have work on their platform? Consider whether the provider can interact with other platforms, as you may find there may be a service that you’d like to use on one platform, but not on another.
Think about support options: Because cloud services are largely deployed in a self-service manner, most of the major cloud service providers provide various options, from free to paid. With each comes a different level of support in terms of response time and technical assistance.
What level of service will you need? Under free support plans, support may be available only under a “best efforts” basis, which generally means that it’s as technical support resources are available and have time. Paid support plans allow for guaranteed assistance within a certain time frame.
Will it fit your price point? – Advanced and premium support plans, while offering speedier assistance, can come with a heftier price tag.
Do the service provider’s customer service reps have a reputation for getting back to customers in a timely manner? Again, crowd-sourced reviews can offer some guidance on how effective and efficient a provider’s customer service reps are.
Consider security measures carefully: This point cannot be stressed enough – what type of security standards does the provider employ? Has the provider had any major data breaches in the recent past and, if so, how were they addressed?
What safeguards does the provider have to ensure your data remains safe and does not get into someone else’s hands?
Does the service provider heavily document all the protocols, security certifications received and methods it uses to keep your cloud infrastructures, applications and data safe?
Read the fine print! In the early days of cloud computing, certain providers claimed to own any data or intellectual property that they put on their networks, storage as theirs — and without consent and at any time. While data ownership and access usually are not problems today, it is prudent to check all specifications.
In conclusion, there are numerous factors to consider when choosing a cloud provider. Doing your homework before making a purchase is imperative for any business owner or manager.
Susanne Tedrick is a Microsoft Technical Trainer for Azure, Microsoft’s cloud computing platform. In her work, Tedrick delivers skills-based, outcome-driven cloud computing training to some of Microsoft’s leading enterprise clients and partners. Tedrick is the author of the critically acclaimed Women of Color in Tech and the upcoming Innovating For Diversity.
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