How To Choose A Cloud Provider

11 criteria to consider when appraising prospective providers

Cloud computing offers significant benefits to businesses - allowing enterprises to have their applications developed, tested and in production faster, with lower CAPEX improved manageability and less maintenance, enabling IT to more rapidly adjust resources to meet fluctuating and unpredictable business demand.

The selection of a cloud computing Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) provider can determine the success or failure of any IT infrastructure deployment. Given the differences between cloud and on-premise deployments, it is important to partner with the cloud hosting computing services with the right experience. Let’s examine 11 important criteria to consider when appraising prospective IaaS providers:

1. User Interface

The best way to plan and architect an IT environment is to use a large, blank whiteboard or Project management software, like Microsoft Visio, to outline, adjust and improve the complete structure, until your team sees a clear version of the overall picture. Most Cloud Hosting IaaS providers require you to code against an API or convert these whiteboard sketches into tables of virtual servers and storage, before linking these tables in a cumbersome manner. With each subsequent time you make a change, you’ll need to draw up a new structure, which will then need to be transferred, again!

ProfitBricks offers a 'virtual whiteboard', the Data Center Designer (DCD), which can do much more than a whiteboard. Using the DCD, you design your Virtual Data Center with servers, storage, load balancers, firewalls and associated networking and IP address assignments. Once satisfied with the structure, you activate your newly-designed data center with a simple mouse-click, all without any complicated forms and tables.

The ProfitBricks DCD provides you with a real-time graphic overview of your entire Virtual Data Center. Changes are easy – you retain this overview of the structure at all times, saving a lot of time, avoiding costly errors, outages due to lack of updated documentation and without any extra charges or 3rd party licenses.

User Interface (UI) has become an increasingly critical element in the evaluation of cloud computing solutions. With time and resources growing scarcer, a good User Interface can help to mitigate the steep learning curve that IT departments face in their organizational migration to a virtualized infrastructure. A customer-friendly user interface in cloud computing orchestration is not just transformative, but has become a requirement.


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2. Service Level Agreement (SLA)

A service level agreement (SLA) is not a guarantee. Rather, it is a commitment from the provider to you that when things go wrong, and they will at some point, that they will respond in a timely manner and credit you a small percentage of your bill to cover the downtime.

Does the provider offer a service level agreement? If the standard SLA is inadequate, will the provider work with you to customize something that will be acceptable to both parties.

In the event of an outage or problem, how are responsibilities shared between your company and the IaaS provider? What is the provider’s level of transparency, and do they proactively inform consumers of SLA noncompliance and breaches? In the event of a disaster, does the language limit the provider’s liability at the expense of your company’s data? What types of restitution is offered by the provider in the face of disaster?


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3. Documentation, Provisioning and Account Set-up

They say that nothing beats a good first impression. When you’re in business the first impression is an important thing to pull off. It has to be right the first time or business opportunities will be lost.In the Cloud Hosting IaaS sector, first impressions are your initial views of website content, dealings with the sales team, and the sign-up process as a whole.

Is the offering and pricing plans simple, clear and easily understood? Did you find the information you were looking for in a timely manner or was it hidden under multiple website levels? Did you speak with sales people and, if so, did they take the time to listen to your needs/requirements and offer to make suggestions? Was it easy to set-up your account? How long did it take to set-up a server and have it running?


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4. Performance

Cloud providers deliver different compute and network performance leading to differing levels of application and database performance results and cloud platform architecture Most cloud providers can offer computing resources of varying sizes — from the smallest single-core instances to the largest multi-core mammoth-memory instances. What’s not so clear, however, is that storage IO can really vary from one cloud provider to another. And storage IO, not CPU, is often times the key determinant in your application excelling or performing poorly in the cloud. Also, many providers’ customers suffer from “noisy neighbors” and variable compute/network performance as a result of flat networks and shared cores.

Learn more about Cloud Computing Performance. Download this third party Cloud Performance Report comparing leading Cloud IaaS providers.

Most cloud providers can offer computing resources of varying sizes — from the smallest single-core instances to the mammoth, multi-core -memory instances. What’s not so clear, however, is that storage IO can vary wildly from one cloud provider to another. And storage IO, not CPU, is often times the key determinant in your application excelling or performing poorly in the cloud.

  • How many IOPS and network bandwidth does your business currently use?
  • Have you seen a report of their UnixBench or iPerf benchmark scores compared to other providers?
  • Do potential cloud providers offer flexible, easy-to-create server options to answer fluctuating capacity needs on demand?


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5. Security/Data Segregation

Cloud security is a “hot topic” with traditional, "old-fashioned" ideas playing a major role in the discussion. The majority of these debates fail to recognize that the actual physical presence of any device or server on the Internet is no longer a valid threat. A server physically located in a secure room within your office building is just as vulnerable to attack by hackers and saboteurs as any Internet-connected PC. Physical walls, doors, and locks, no matter how strong, will no longer prevent your vital information from being compromised. At most, all that is prevented is the server, itself, from being stolen.

The safety of your data can only be guaranteed if the server is protected against Internet-based attacks. Your best defense is a professionally maintained system with firewalls and 24/7 monitoring by well-trained, experienced system administrators. In-house data centers do not typically employ security engineers, thus providing hackers with even greater opportunities to steal data or cause even greater harm.  Many cloud hosting providers will offer advice and assitance to help you design and maintain a highly secure enviornment.

  • Can you engineer redundancies into your cloud infrastructure via its management platforms, or will the provider work with you to create a 100% available solution? Ensure that the level of support offered meets your organization’s needs.


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6. Network Infrastructure and Data Center Location

Just as it would be in your own facility, the physical network infrastructure of a cloud hosting provider is a key factory in performance. It is important to get a clear understanding and insight into the ‘bones’ of the organization to make sure it can support your company’s specific infrastructure needs. Ask about their network infrastructure, performance, and physical location(s). Physical location is very important for a few reasons – statute restrictions may regulate your use of customer data; Jurisdictional requirements will regulate the laws that apply in the event of a dispute; and environmental factors to assess natural risks such as hurricanes, earthquakes, etc.

Your software developers will be the ones interested in the provider’s cloud infrastructure, as certain IaaS offerings may require them to rethink how applications are written and deployed.

  • Do potential providers offer infrastructure details during the vetting phases of cloud selection?
  • How does the physical security of your cloud provider’s data center compare to security of your own IT environment?
  • Are you moving up in terms of data center security, or does the cloud provider leave you with doubts?


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7. Customer Service and Tech Support

Although many providers claim to offer “extraordinary” levels of support, cloud computing hosting providers have not been known to offer superlative customer support. The early cloud adopters, generally speaking, have been software developers or very technical teams who didn’t require a lot of personal assistance. Today, as cloud makes inroads into organizations of all types and sizes, IT leaders need to know they can contact someone at their selected provider if, and when, problems arise. It is important to find out if your prospective providers offer free technical support or only various tiers of paid assistance – either as a subscription or pay-as-you-go.  You might even want to make a call to support and check their authentication policy and ask a question or two. Is it a call center or a technically astute person you speak to?

  •  What levels of support does your cloud deployment require?
  • Do you require a hands-off solution or more personal attention and support?
  • Will you or your team manage your cloud internally, or do you need managed cloud services?
  • What access to support and customer service is available in each scenario?


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8. Billing Methodology and Pricing

The primary driver behind most business moves to the cloud is to save money. Almost all cloud providers offer a utility-based pricing model, similar to electric and water usage, where you use the resources you need and then simply pay for the resources consumed. But that can be lost when you are forced to buy packages that have pre-set CPU cores and RAMs tied to each other – often forcing you to over-buy to meet resource needs. Cloud customers need to be aware of four main resources - CPU, RAM, data storage and bandwidth.

The majority of IaaS providers bundle these resources together into preset server sizes with monthly “subscription packages or plans” with peak hourly surcharges. By billing in simple and transparent units for each resource separately users can see the real computing costs and purchase only what they need.  While one cloud provider might offer inexpensive computing or storage resources, that storage may be temporary, necessitating additional fees for block storage.

For more information on Cloud Computing IaaS Pricing, visit our Cloud Pricing Site.

Rather than just looking at the lowest price offered by each provider, consider your specific resource requirements.

Also, consider any and all special features required when requesting your quote. While it is tempting to go with the company that offers the lowest price for the package you need, if you truly want the best cloud hosting, you will also need to consider the reputation and reliability of the company.

  • Your IT Budgets: What resources are behind your organization’s transition to a cloud-based infrastructure?
  • How does budget align with the reality of achieving your current IT goals?
  •  Competitive Pricing: How is the solution priced?
  • Does it vary by compute capacity, network traffic, storage, additional services, flat fees and overages, etc.?


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9. Total Cost of Ownership

Many cloud hosting providers hide the total cost associated with the subscription-based pricing, choosing instead to focus on their “advertised” price. You must be aware of hidden costs and insist on transparency at the beginning of the relationship.

Some of the most popular hidden fees include:

  • Subscription charges – A monthly, pre-paid “package” for a specific level of resources.
  • Software licensing fees – operating system, database software images are often left out of discussions
  • Burst resource pricing above subscription level - Increased cost of additional bandwidth, CPU cores, memory, or storage
  • I/O server-to-disk back-end network activity
  • Amplified levels and types of customer support – Phone and email support are often not included. Some providers even charge more for the escalation of a support issue.
  • Data migration costs – what are the initial costs of modifying your application to fit the specific design requirements of a cloud provider and the cost of transferring your data to the cloud?


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10. Financial Security

It is important to understand the long-term viability of the cloud hosting provider. Some of the items to consider are:

  • How long has the company been around?
  • Are they financially-secure? Do they have sufficient funding?
  • Is there any danger of merger or acquisition?
  • Do potential cloud providers’ processes and technologies stand up to recommendations from the IT industry’s leading organizations?


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11. References, References, References

The reputation of the cloud hosting IaaS provider is the final evaluation topic. There is significant competition in cloud computing industry and it is vital for providers to have and maintain excellent references for long-term viability.  Be sure to ask prospective providers for references that can specifically highlight service reliability, quality of service, quality of support, and network performance.  Review their website or ask them for Case Studies and analyst and media coverage examples.

  • Ask your team: Who are you working with in the evaluation process, and do you trust them?
  • Has vetting this provider been an easy process, or does it make you question the level of service and support that lies ahead?


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