Key evaluating factors in deciding the right Cloud Service Provider

By August 2, 2020 Powerlearnings

Compiled by Kiran Kumar 

Since August 9, 2006, when the then Google CEO Eric Schmidt introduced the term to an industry conference, cloud computing has been driving the IT industry over the past decade and a half through its outright performance, ease of use, and its industry adaptability. Broadly segmented in Iaas, PaaS, SaaS, BPaaS, and Management & Security with the line’s blurring between each it, makes it challenging to find the right fit for your computing needs. So we have listed down a few factors you should consider while evaluating, and what are the core considerations for each. 

  1. Infrastructure setup
  2. The learning curve
  3. The relevance of the service catalog
  4. Data governance and Security
  5. Partner relationships
  6. SLAs
  7. Consistency and Reliability
  8. Back-Up and Support
  9. Cost
  10. Flexibility and Exit strategy

Infrastructure Setup

Infrastructure setup can have a huge impact on your latency, network speeds, data transfer rate, and so on, a diversified infrastructure setup would require a data center (also referred to as Availability Zones) that is closest to your preferred location. 

There are 4 standards of data centers as defined by uptime institute – globally accepted standards for data center planning, the exact guidelines and protocols are not clearly out in public but some of these metrics include redundant electrical path for power, uptime guarantee, cooling capacity, and concurrent maintainability, etc. Tier 4 is the highest standard for data centers. Min requirements for Tier 4 data centers are 

  • 99.995 % uptime in a  year. 
  • 2N+1 infrastructure (two times the amount required for operation plus a backup). 
  • Maximum allowed downtime per year of 26.3 minutes. 
  • 96-hour power outage protection.

Data centers can be easily affected by power outages, earthquakes, tornadoes, lightning strikes, etc. hence require careful planning, try and get a sense of the key design parameters adopted in setting up their data centers to counter such occurrences. Also, make sure to evaluate the cloud provider’s crisis management processes and guidelines as it showcases their ability and how well equipped they are to quickly resolve an ongoing crisis.

If your enterprise is into IoT and edge computing check for highly redundant network connectivity (5g) and low latency services to improve response times and save bandwidth. They are key factors in supporting the edge computing environments like real-time securities market forecasting, autonomous vehicles, and transportation traffic routing, etc. 

Key considerations

  • Location (Availability Zone’s)
  • Datacenter tier
  • Crisis management guidelines and protocols
  • Roadmap for upcoming technology support

The learning curve 

Despite its popularity among enterprises, with almost all Fortune 500 companies having one provider, there is still a shortage of cloud understanding. Cloud transformation can be challenging and demands to be considered as a separate project of its own, the lack of necessary cloud skills can cause inefficient migration leading to unintended consequences and unwanted costs. 

Every organization has its strengths and weaknesses, identify your strengths, and try to build your Cloud infrastructure around it. Start by assessing each cloud provider and the type of offerings available. It is imperative to be cognizant of all skills required for the general operation, governance, compliance amongst others. The storage of data is often an afterthought, stemming from a general absence of protocol-related knowledge. This needs to be addressed through various upskilling programs and strategic talent acquisitions. So it is important to list down for each of those providers how steep the learning curve would be before and after the migration. As a remark, most companies preferred to outsource these functions to specialist managed services providers.

Key considerations

  • Ease of learning
  • Upskilling support from the cloud provider
  • Active communities and partnership 

The relevance of the service catalog

Each cloud provider offers different products and services but it is important to make sure that your cloud goals align with the provider’s vision for improvement. Do your preferences match with the provider’s standards, SLA’s and your security needs, how much re-coding or customization is required at the architectural level to suit your workloads, and what are the associated costs? 

Especially if you are looking for SaaS-based services with a high dependency on a particular application, understanding the service development roadmap, or how they continue to innovate, grow, and support their product over time. Does their roadmap fit your needs in the long term? 

Cloud providers also offer a lot of services to assist you in your cloud transformation, assessment, and planning or in case of a large scale public cloud provider they provide a lot of offers custom made for your organization. In support, they also have a well-established partner community that can help you with all your cloud requirements. 

Key considerations

  • Services in-line with your needs
  • Rich and broad marketplace and an active developer community
  • Compatibility over the long term

Data Governance and Security

Storing data can be tricky simply because of the diversities in the data law across the world. Every organization needs to be aware of the local data regulations and prevailing privacy laws.

Your choice will depend on the cloud provider offering most flexibility and most compliant, also be aware of the provider’s data center location, and verify it.

Data encryption is another factor that needs your attention. Assess what are the different modes of encryption available for both data transit and during storage. Check the provider’s history for any major incidents that have occurred and understand what processes they have in place to quickly resolve the issues. High risk, highly sensitive data can be stored using much more secure and encrypted data storage solutions to and cheaper storage solutions to store some of the less sensitive data like (inventory information, daily logs, etc). 

On the information-security side check what are the compliance standards followed and any recognizable certifications they hold. However, even with all this in place, it is important for the cloud provider to offer the flexibility to support your own security practices and your commitments to your clients.   

Key considerations

  • Flexible data access and management
  • Data Compliance & Security
  • Wide range of data services  

Partner relationships

It is common practice to have a partner ecosystem to guide and facilitate these transitions to the cloud. It is, therefore, important to assess the provider’s relationship with key vendors, their accreditation levels, technical capabilities, number of projects completed, staff certifications, and the overall expertise they bring to the table. Important to note here, expertise in multi-cloud is a bonus. Powerup, for example, is a top-tier partner with the big three cloud service providers.

If you are largely reliant on SaaS-based services, check for the overall compatibility of the product across the platforms, as some of the SaaS-based services are platform-specific. Look for an active marketplace to buy complementary services that are super compatible.

In some of the regions, cloud services are made available through a subcontractor mainly due to the local laws like in the case of China, such interdependencies have to be uncovered and guarantee the primary SLAs stated across all parts of the service.

Key factors

  • Check for accreditations
  • Level of expertise across platforms
  • Relationship with the cloud provider
  • Service compatibility across platforms 

SLAs

Cloud agreements seem complex simply because of the lack of industry standards which defines how these contracts should be constructed. However, ISO/IEC 19086-1:2016 tries to an extent to facilitate a common understanding between cloud service providers and cloud service customers. Usually, agreements are a mixture of commonly agreed general terms and conditions and some negotiated terms.  

Service Levels

Make sure each service objectives like accessibility, service availability or uptime in percentages, service capacity and what is the upper limit in terms of users, connections, resources response time, and deliverables are defined. Be clearly aware of your roles and responsibilities related to delivery, provisioning, service management, monitoring, support, escalations, etc and how responsibilities are split between you and the provider. 

Other scenarios include during an outage or natural disaster the min and max accepted downtime, data loss, or recovery times have to be clearly analyzed against your requirements. Control over data access, data location, confidentiality usage, and ownership rights are crucial check for standards and commitments under data resilience and data backup needs to be in line with your requirements and necessary provisions for a safe exit strategy.

Some of the key business considerations: 

  • Contractual and service governance includes to what extent the provider can unilaterally change the terms of service or contract
  • What are the policies on contract renewals and exits and what are the notice periods?
  • What insurance policies, guarantees, and penalties are included, and some exceptions.

Key considerations

  • Key SLAs
  • How compatible are the terms and conditions with your organization’s goals
  • Are they equipped to support their claims?
  • Are they negotiable?
  • Are the liabilities and responsibilities equally shared?  

Consistency and Reliability 

High availability and reliability are essential for both CSP and the client in maintaining customer’s confidence and preventing revenue losses due to service level agreement (SLA) violation penalties. Cloud computing has appealed to a larger audience in recent years for supporting critical mission systems. However, the lack of consistency in cloud services is quickly becoming a major issue. According to 2018 research reports, about $285 million have been lost yearly due to cloud service failures and offering availability of about 99.91%.

No cloud platform is perfect and downtime may occur more often than not, so try to measure it against their SLAs for the last 6-12 months, this data is mostly available online if not on request. Check what learnings they take back from such occurrences and how consistent they have been in their recovery times as stated in SLAs. Also, ensure monitoring and reporting tools on offer are sufficient and can neatly integrate into your overall management and reporting systems.

Key factors

  • Check for consistency in delivery through past performance.
  • Fault management and reporting systems. 

Back-Up and Support

Check what back-up provisions and processes are in place and understand the limits of their ability to support your data preservation expectations. Roles, responsibilities, escalation processes, and who has the burden of proof, all must be clearly documented in the service agreement. Taking into consideration the increasing levels in criticalness of data, data sources, scheduling, backup, restore, integrity checks, etc. Consider purchasing additional risk insurance if the costs associated with recovery are not covered by the provider’s terms and conditions.

Cloud providers offer a wide range of support services to help their customers out on each step migration, managed services, etc. The support delivery medium offered is also important, where you want them to be available – a phone call, chat, or email? And if they are offered through a partner, the expertise they bring to you. Here staff certification is a good barometer of the quality of the support on offer. 

Key considerations

  • Well equipped multi-channel support services (24/7)
  • Clear documentation around the roles and responsibilities
  • Insurance coverage

Cost

Don’t just go by the list price, as providers might offer services at low cost but may not offer you the optimum level of performance. While that does not mean more expensive is better. The correct way to approach it is by comparing all of them against your core requirements as illustrated above. It is not uncommon to ask for offers, so do so with the ultimate goal to incorporate all the services you need in the desired price range. Studies express that just basic optimization can save about 10% of your cloud cost. Some of the cloud providers have tried and tested ways through which you can save costs. Also through a multi-cloud approach, you can leverage far more value and flexibility, read more about it here

Key considerations

  • Price to value comparison
  • Look for offers
  • Predefined guidelines to save cost 

Flexibility & Exit Strategy

Vendor lock-in is an important factor in most considerations, however, some things cannot be avoided and it’s best that we check if the provider has minimal use of such services. Here is where adopting open source services can be an effective workaround. Also, stay aware of the updates which drastically change the working model policies and technologies of a product to support a particular platform and make sure to have policies in place to counter such situations.

Exiting a CSP can be tricky; it boils down to the exit provisions provided by the service provider and the services levels agreed upon by both parties. All your digital assets starting from your data products and services need to have their own exit strategy which needs to be integrated deeply into your cloud transformation plan. Most organizations don’t include an exit strategy in their cloud adoption roadmap which leads to a lack of preparation, waste of effort, and penalties due to exceeding the exit duration.

Key considerations

  • Ease of transition
  • Support for open source
  • Exit provisions

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