There is a lot of fluff, noise, and Cloud washing going on in the market at the moment, particularly in New Zealand, given the size and maturity of the market here. One of the elements of moving to Cloud services is making sure that you are not buying into an immature, risky, Cloud washed service delivered by your vendor. After all, the first place you are going to go asking questions about Cloud is your primary vendor, right?
Whoever you are going to move to Cloud with is effectively going to become your new best friend. More than that, they are going to be your new business partner in your company. They’ll hold all your secrets, data, and as such support every last business process that you need just to survive. You’d best be sure they are going to actually give you what you need.
I apologise in advance for some of the crossover between items, they do relate in most cases. Also, it will be rare to find that 100%, pure Cloud vendor that meets all the requirements. What you are looking for is the one that best does meet the requirements and most importantly, can demonstrate they have a growth strategy that will increase their Cloud capabilities.
All good Cloud vendors should allow you some kind of trial access or pilot access to make sure that you are happy with what you are going to get. Further, I am a strong advocate of the vendor showing you exactly how things work under the hood. Sign an NDA if you need to, but satisfy your self by doing some due diligence on the service.
Who are they? Who runs them? What is their financial position like? Set some lawyers, bean counters, and commercial people digging to find out everything you can about the vendor. You’re getting into bed with these guys, worse, you’re asking them to manage the bed. Find out who they are in detail.
Talk to their customers. It goes without saying that they should give you the most insight into the service and the vendor. Don’t let the vendor nominate customer reference sites. It’s a pointless exercise. The reference sites you get will always be friendly. Exploit your relationships and talk off the record to people. Look at the size of the customer base as well, many customers is an indicator of a healthy vendor.
Where will your virtual stuff be hosted? On site with your vendor or are they back-ending and sub contracting to another company? Which country will it a) be run out of and b) will data be stored elsewhere and if so, where? How does their Datacentre stack up on industry standards? Is it true Tier 3 plus or is it a garage with an air-conditioning unit?
Ensure that security, both virtual and physical, is appropriate. Ask to see policies and processes for data security and verify the effectiveness of them. Ensure that appropriate physical security is in place including surveillance systems.
Business Continuity & Disaster Recovery
Does the vendor have adequate Business Continuity Plans and Disaster Recovery Processes. And, yes, there is a big difference between the two and they are both critical. Ask to see the documentation. Understand their thinking on which customers get restored first following a disaster that impacts multiple customers. Understand how the will manage their business continuity. Ask them when it was last tested in real life, not just on paper.
Is it really open?
What services, applications, tools, and other elements are supported by your Cloud vendor? In detail. A list. With versions. There are plenty of vendors out in the wild that only support an either a) limited number of services or b) their own service (here’s looking at you Oracle).
End device compatibility
More relevant if you are buying software as a service, make sure you know exactly what devices and platforms the SaaS can operate on. The more the better. The less the more need to be concerned. Phones, tablets, workstations, operating systems, browsers, the works.
Standard SLA’s that also cater for specific Cloud requirements
Be very careful of SLA’s that are customised for you as a business. This is a danger sign. A good Cloud vendor will probably have no more than four or five service levels, of which you will need to pick the most appropriate to your business. They should cover availability, reliability, recoverability, security, times for provisioning, time for decommissioning, performance, accessibility, and a host of other individual elements.
Is it portable?
As Cloud progresses you are very likely to end up with a hybrid model, especially if you are a larger organisation or company. That means that you are going to want to be able to do a couple of things. The first is moving the service en masse to another provider if you choose. It may not be easy, but it must be possible. Secondly, being able to move specific workloads in and out of the Cloud vendor’s environment. If you have a set of virtual machines that need to be moved from private to public, for testing as an example, and then back again, it should be simple, fast, and easy.
Some Examples of Cloud Washers
Each year there is an award set called “The Washies.” It looks at the biggest Cloud washer for the year along with some other categories. It will come as no surprise that Oracle is the current winner of not only the primary award, but two other categories. The Oracle Cloud is noted as:
“Essentially a hardware/software device to “provide cloud infrastructure in one stop.” In reality the system is simply a glorified mainframe with all the required software pre-configured.” – Calling out the Cloud Washers
HP got nailed last year as well by Information Week:
“Cloud Service Automation, part of Cloud System, does include gleanings from the 2010 Stratavia acquisition, which tracks configuration changes in deployed systems, useful in launching cloud workloads. But much of Cloud Service Automation is a reassembly of predecessor products, such as HP Network Management Center, the former OpenView, and HP Performance Center. Together, they provide configuration management, monitoring, and deployment in the cloud, as they did earlier for physical assets in the data center. HP’s services consultants say they want to do more Cloud Discovery Workshops for prospects. Maybe a place to begin would be HP’s own marketing department, so that it learns to blur the line less between old and new.” – Information Week
In fact, HP has the dubious extinction of catching the attention of The Onion who made a video about HP’s “Cloud Thing“.
Closer to home, New Zealand owned and operated businesses are still mulling the move to Cloud, though some are selling them as actual Cloud services, however it is my personal opinion that there is still a year or two to go with most of them. Some services are highly polished marketing packs that when you look underneath you see application as a service at best. Others have high volume in terms of customers and are struggling to make the move from facilities and hosting management to pure Cloud. Others have a very reasonable and quickly maturing Cloud service. Some are still fishing around to see what need there is for them to invest in the technology.