4 Considerations when Selecting a Cloud Computing Provider

Selecting a cloud provider can be tricky. Here are four things you need to investigate before making your selection.

By David S. Linthicum

As we move systems, data, and business processes to "the cloud," we need to figure out how to select a provider. The providers are so new and different in how they approach providing a cloud computing service that special attention should be paid to understand both the capabilities and the limitations.

This is really a variation the old idea of a platform's ability to meet the requirements of the architecture (and thus the business). The critical success factor is to get your requirements right up front, and then back those requirements into the technology solution. Moreover, to meet the requirements of the solution, you might need to leverage more than one cloud-computing provider.

Keep in mind that the final suite of target cloud computing platforms could be very different than what you first envision. As I work with clients. I find that some might head down the path to Microsoft and then select Google (or vice versa). However, if you've done your homework, you'll choose the proper platforms for your architecture.

Also worth mentioning is the ease of switching (or should we say the relative ease of switching) cloud computing platforms when things change -- and they often do. Typically the change is triggered by a business event and the cloud computing platform, such as the cloud computing provider going out of business or a merger or acquisition that changes or removes that platform.

Thus, always make sure to have a Plan A and a Plan B for moving your data and processes from cloud to cloud. I call the process of thinking about portability as "cloud insurance." Of course, this depends upon the cloud computing provider you selected, their use of standards, and your ability to find another provider that offers similar (or better) characteristics and features.

The business issues are more important if you're going to create a sound solutions architecture using cloud computing, since you're completely dependent upon the cloud provider to stay in business and remain up and running. Thus, things you must consider include:

1. The viability of the provider and the likelihood it will support your cloud computing platforms in the future. Do means tests to make sure (or to verify as well as possible) that the cloud computing provider will be around for at least five years.

2. The provider's ability to recover from hardware, software, and network failures, dynamically, and with minimum downtime. Look at their performance history for this, including the number of times outages have occurred in the last several years. Understanding the trends means understanding the future.

3. The service-level agreements (SLAs) and a meeting of the minds between you and the cloud computing provider about what service levels need to be supported for your architecture. These are legal agreements that are designed to protect your business from cloud computing providers that are substandard (and thus may hurt your business_. They typically outline monetary compensation.

4. A complete understanding of the policies of the cloud computing provider and how "violation" is defined. In some instances, cloud computing providers have just cancelled accounts without notice when a policy violation occurs. In many respects, you're putting your trust in a provider over which you have no direct control. The risk is that they can pull the plug at any time, for any reason. Make sure you find a provider that won't do that.

You'll find that the patterns of selecting cloud computing providers are very much like the patterns of selecting traditional platforms. However, cloud computing platforms are run by other people, so you need to be careful about your selection process and find out who those people are.

David S. Linthicum is the founder and the CTO of Blue Mountain Labs and an internationally recognized industry expert and thought leader. He is the author or co-author of 13 books on computing, including Enterprise Application Integration (Addison Wesley). You can contact the author at david@bluemountainlabs.com.
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