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Cloud hosting buyers, beware

Here's our buyers guide.

If ever there was an IT zeitgeist, ’the cloud’ is it. Businesses and CTOs are virtually clamouring to migrate their software, infrastructure and anything else they can find on the cloud.

But before rushing to throw the baby, the bath and the bathwater skywards, it’s hugely important to understand that not all cloud providers are the same. While it’s true that the cloud is more of a commodity than ever before, it is still a service and ultimately that makes it unwise to choose based on price alone.

To help make the choice of cloud provider more straightforward, we’ve created a buyer beware guide to help signpost what to look out for and what to avoid.

  1. Technical knowledge is only part of the puzzle

Clearly you want your cloud provider to know their onions, but being too focussed on technical prowess may be a sign of weakness. IT and business are moving ever closer together and what you really need to know is that your provider understands what your business needs from cloud hosting, not just how the nuts and bolts of how it works.

Without this level of knowledge, you risk having a technical platform that is not tuned to the requirements of your business and a partner that may not be aware of technical opportunities to help you gain further advantage.

The ideal scenario is a provider that has experience in your vertical sector and better yet one who has experience with your specific application stack. Ask for references and to speak to similar customers to get a real feel for your potential partner.

  1. What’s the roadmap?

The cloud hosting market, particularly for IaaS has seen consolidation and a shifting landscape over the past two to three years. Faced with stiff competition from the major players: Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and to a lesser degree Google, smaller providers are finding it much harder to remain competitive.

This has lead many to shift the focus of their offering, for example moving from IaaS provision to a managed PaaS. The last thing you want for your business is to sign up for hosting and find out a few months later that your provider isn’t really focusing on that type of business anymore.

Understanding a providers business plan and roadmap for the coming 12-24 months along with a willingness to sign appropriate agreements guaranteeing to stay on track are the things to look out for.

  1. Is there a plan B?

Today’s cloud comes in a variety of shapes and sizes so proceed with caution if a provider tries too hard to push you down a particular path.

The options open to you are much broader that simply migrating everything onto the cloud. There are hybrid cloud arrangements which may entail your own on-premise equipment combined with private hosting or even extending that to include public cloud providers for less sensitive information or processes.

Equally important is that a provider should take a lead from you. If your business is keen to test the water initially, don’t be taken in by an ’all or nothing’ pitch. It’s quite common to gradually migrate systems to the cloud as confidence in the technology grows.

What’s important is that the requirements of the business are front and centre, not the requirements of the hosting provider.

  1. Security, performance and reliability

Prior to the cloud, the only real security issues a business faced were either being hacked or being broken into. And now the cloud is here, that hasn’t really changed. The one major difference is that you’re no longer in charge of keeping things physically locked up or digitally locked down –  that’s up the data centre your cloud provider uses.

In reality, the security surrounding data centres in the UK is likely to be rather better than the average business – both physically and in terms of digital vulnerabilities. For the majority of businesses operating 24/7, a Tier 3 data centre will be more than adequate.

So what else to look out for:

  • Performance metrics – What servers they use, the disc access speeds, the processor types, network bandwidth and availability of SSDs
  • Downtime – how much has the data centre experienced and how does that match up against their SLAs?
  • Levels of customer support and how support can be accessed – online only or via phone support

One key issue when choosing a hosting provider is the location of their data centre. If it’s not in the UK it may not be subject to UK law which can pose a risk to some businesses both in terms of Data Protection laws and liability should anything happen to your data.

  1. Pricing and transparency of approach

Unfortunately, not all cloud hosting pricing structures are equal. It’s common to find a very agreeable headline rate per hour, with nasty surprises hidden away for additional storage, peaks in demand and other ’unanticipated’ usage.

Seeking out a provider that is happy to spell out all the costs upfront it almost always the best scenario. On the surface, cheaper looks better but it doesn’t take much of a scratch to reveal expensive horrors lurking beneath.

A final word….

There’s no doubt, cloud is definitely the zeitgeist and for many businesses it make strategic and operational sense. But for others, the cloud is simply not the right approach – beware of the provider that tells you otherwise!!

At Sentis, we work to really understand your business in order to help you get the most from the technology and people available. And because every business is different we understand that what works for one won’t necessarily work for another.

Get in touch now for a free IT audit to see how we can help your business.