18 Sep 2012

Cloud checklist: 3 critical things to consider

What are the key things to keep in mind when choosing the cloud?

Choosing the cloud is often a decision inspired by a desire to cut costs and complexity. But the cheapest solution is not necessarily the wisest choice.

Other considerations can be far more critical, such as the type of provider, the services offered, flexibility and customisation, and of course security.

1. Hosting vs managed service

When choosing the cloud, you first need to understand the difference between a hoster (Melbourne IT, Macquarie), a telco (Telstra, Optus) and a managed service provider like Brennan IT. These types of organisation all take a very different approach, and the size of your company can determine which is the most appropriate choice.

Often telcos and larger suppliers are not interested in managing to the desktop. They want to provide a cookie cutter outcome: massive scale, with limited flexibility. Their business model is based on high volumes, with low levels of service.

While start ups or tiny companies may initially fit into MYOB and a hosted exchange, this won’t suit small to medium enterprises.

A managed service provider focuses on managing everything and providing business outcomes. This suits more sophisticated organisations, who want a level of customisation and control. The type of cloud provider you choose will dictate their ability to deal with your particular needs.

2. Availability and reliability

A cloud provider should establish availability, reliability and the level of control. One issue is that these can be hard to measure. Many vendors promise 99.95 per cent availability, but there’s currently no way to track this.

Security and privacy are also critical. As legislation evolves, there are stricter requirements about protecting and encrypting data. If you plan to host customer data in the cloud, you need to ensure your provider is able and willing to comply with laws, standards and codes of practice, that may vary from industry to industry.

Also consider what environment your data will be housed in, and how can you get it out if you want to change provider? Changing cloud providers is not always easy, and you need to make sure migration tools are available. Vendor lock-in is a valid concern, so look for providers using open-source technology.

3. Reputation is important

Another really important consideration is who’s going to around for the long haul? Is the cloud provider financially stable? Make sure that they’re a good quality provider that has got some substance, and not a fly-by-nighter.

If your managed cloud provider has less than fifty staff, for example, they’re likely too small to have a lot of the appropriate governance and support. Look at their scale. If they have a small staff, of which a big percentage will be sales staff, how are they going to do all they stuff they promise?

Getting client references is also a good idea. Many companies have case studies on their website, you can always make your own enquiries directly. Find out how quickly and effectively they rectify downtimes, and what their after sales-support is like.

Ultimately you should be able to save money and gain efficiency with the cloud. But it may be best to pick a provider with strong customer service and technical support, rather than take a solely price-based decision.

What were your key considerations for your cloud strategy?