How to Select the Right Cloud Partner for Your Data-Driven Business

by   |   July 15, 2014 5:30 am   |   0 Comments

The cloud can be a frightening place. For many organizations, the idea of handing their data over to a third party goes against the instinct to protect their valuable assets and information. But the business benefits of a cloud migration are well documented, so for many companies considering taking their first steps into the cloud, the question is no longer “if” but “how.”

And there seems to be no shortage of “hows”: How do I know which cloud environment is right for me? How do I ensure that my data is secure? How do I choose a future-proof solution?

The cloud provider you choose will be integral to the success of your cloud strategy. Accordingly, Joel Cornette, a Centre of Excellence Business Executive at IBM, says that organizations shouldn’t look for a cloud provider but a cloud partner. Cornette shared tips with Data Informed for evaluating a move to the cloud, including several specific questions to ask cloud providers to ensure a successful partnership.

Data Informed: One of the biggest concerns for organizations considering moving their data to the cloud is security. Do the different types of cloud offerings – private, public, and hybrid – present different security issues? Is one type inherently more or less secure than the others?

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Joel Cornette: Different cloud models have different degrees of security challenges to overcome in regards to both data and access. Security should be evaluated based on network security, computer security, data security, physical security, and operational security. Each security area requires validation, routine verification, and procedures should a breach occur.

There is no best model for security but, depending on workloads, data, and geographic distribution of users, there may be a best model to obtain the security required. Pick your workload, define your security requirements, and then determine which cloud model is the best fit. If you identify risks that cannot be mitigated, you move closer to the private cloud. As risks are addressed, you move in the direction of public. Hybrid is somewhere in the middle, but hybrid models also mean that your enterprise will most likely be in a multi-tenancy environment – sharing of resources among clients – so make sure you understand how your cloud provider mitigates the risk of performance and data privacy issues.

What is the first question an organization must ask itself when considering a move to the cloud?

Cornette: “Why?” That is, get agreement from key stakeholders on the compelling reasons for moving to the cloud, establish a clear vision of what control your organization needs to have or desires to have for the systems and data now and in the future, and understand what it might cost to be cloud integrated. All clouds models require integration into the business.

The benefits of cloud computing include rapid deployment, agility, scalability, dynamic infrastructure, cost reduction, lower TCO, 24/7 availability, standardization, and – depending on the cloud provider – it can be a competitive advantage to expand your market presence with minimal up-front investment. For example, depending on your cloud provider, you can have a data center up in the UK to support a new office in the UK without creating an IT infrastructure to support the UK team. Know what benefits you are striving to achieve to so that your cloud implementation meets your expectations.

What questions should an organization ask to evaluate a potential cloud provider?

Cornette: 1. How does the provider secure my data and who has access to it?
2. How reliable is the service, what service levels are available for my cloud and do you have disaster recovery services?
3. Are there any restrictions (workloads, OS, platforms, access) as to what I can run in my cloud? and/or what features does your cloud provide over the competition?
4. How long have you been providing cloud services?
5. Where are your cloud data centers — or where can I access “my cloud” should you be my cloud provider — and what languages do you support?
6. Do you have any references in my industry?
7. How can you assist me in moving/migrating my workloads to the cloud?
8. How can you work with me to make my cloud experience successful?
9. How do I measure, monitor and manage how my cloud’s performance?
10. What is the process for moving my workloads and data from your cloud back to my data center should I decide to refocus my cloud workloads?
11. How much does it cost per month and how do you charge for your services?
12. Whom do I call should I have problems?

Evaluate a now state and a future state. Do not forget to ask how they know when they need to add features/functions, how they know when to grow, and when they determine a technology refresh is needed for their infrastructure.

Do the various types of cloud offerings differ in what they provide? How can an organization be sure it chooses the right type of cloud offering for its needs?

Cornette: Cloud offerings do differ in what is provided as well as how providers can assist the consumer. A workload assessment should be done to understand what workloads are the best fit for the cloud infrastructure under consideration and where users will be when they access the cloud. Assess the cloud provider on your compelling reasons for moving to the cloud and include in the workload assessment needs for security, compliance, integration, and control or governance. Different providers will have different results in your assessment, as no two cloud providers are exactly the same. In some cases, the most compelling reason may be to reduce the complexity of IT. In that case, look for a provider that can partner with you as you move to the cloud so you will not be on your own as you undertake this journey.

Have a vision of now and the future when assessing and evaluating your cloud provider. IT is changing and is becoming more complex, and users’ expectations of IT are also changing. The increase in mobile applications and mobile access requirements – nearly three times the demand – is one area that needs to be in-plan. The move to the cloud must be able to easily accommodate wired- and wireless access that is secure. Accordingly, how to support applications and data in the cloud is extremely important, so pick a provider that will be a partner. Once on the cloud, you will not be able to walk down to the data center and reboot a server or add storage like in the past. Processes will need to adapt to be cloud-centric and new applications will need to be more cloud aware.

With the massive amounts of data that organizations generate daily, how can an organization be sure a cloud provider’s infrastructure will be able to support its data-analysis demands now and in the future?

Cornette: Ask your cloud provider how they determine their need to scale-up in regards to compute power, storage capacity, network connectivity, and innovation. How do they know when they need to add features/functions? How do they know when to grow and when do they determine a technology refresh is needed for their infrastructure? Find out if the cloud provider offers tiered storage options and how you might be able to use storage tiers to scale up or scale down as demand increases/decreases.

What challenges do companies face when attempting to switch cloud providers?

Cornette: The first challenge is understanding if their current workloads are supported by the new provider. The second is how to get their data migrated to the new provider. In some instances, this second challenge is the hurdle that almost keeps companies locked into the current provider. Unless new workloads are being deployed, it may be difficult to make the move without a lot of effort and an interruption in service.

Accordingly, companies contemplating a switch should find out if the new provider can assist them. Again, look for more than a provider, look for cloud partner. Refer back to the questions to ask a cloud provider we discussed earlier to assess how smooth the transition will be.

When contemplating a hybrid cloud configuration, what are the most important factors for a company to consider when deciding which data to push into the cloud and which to manage in-house?

Cornette: Critical success factors for what goes where can be ascertained by evaluating your data requirements for security, compliance, integration, and control or governance. You will need to assess your company’s involvement in these four factors. The greater the need for your involvement, the greater the need to be in-house. Data that has low touch, less compliance, and can be secured and is less dynamic are good candidates for the cloud – again, as long a security and compliance risks can be mitigated.

I should mention that integration can also be a critical factor as you work with applications and data. Therefore, Single Sign-On may be required for getting systems to work together. And as this is done, you also will need integrated systems and service management. In hybrid models, if something is not performing or goes down, you need to be able to help isolate the problem. So define, document, and validate all business processes before moving into a hybrid cloud implementation and define metrics for quality of service when leveraging a hybrid cloud solution.

Scott Etkin is the managing editor of Data Informed. Email him at Follow him on Twitter: @Scott_WIS.

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