The Long and Short of Assessing Cloud Computing Providers

Frank Ohlhorst
The robustness of the cloud hangs over the head of most any CTO, CIO and tech manager, driving the big question, 'Should we move our businesses processes into the cloud?' Further complicating the issue is that even as cloud computing momentum increases, the definition of the cloud is still vague -- is it software as a service (SaaS), is it AJAX-based applications, is it hosted management solutions, is it hosted applications? The truth is that the cloud is all that and much more. The cloud has transformed into an ecosystem of applications and services that potentially could address any business technology need.

For most, the easy part is identifying what is available. After all, the number of service providers grows daily and most applications are already serviced by a number of providers. The hard part is deciding whether to make the move to the cloud, a decision that should not be taken lightly.

Make no mistake, moving to the cloud is a business decision, not a technology decision, and as such should be judged on the same merits used for any new business process. Ultimately, the final decision will be based on the metrics of return on investment, performance, sustainability and suitability to task. The best way to determine the overall suitability of cloud-based services is a pilot project, where lessons learned can become part of the overall decision process and can be used to build a template of how to proceed with future projects.

The Basics

Managers need to do a little home work before launching that pilot project. Several tasks should be performed before making the leap. Some of those tasks fall under business best practices, while others fit more into the realm of technical analysis. Managers should be prepared to do the following:

  • Audit the targeted applications and business processes to create a cost-benefit-risk analysis that compares a traditional client/server solution to a cloud-based solution.
  • Audit the cloud services provider, including an assessment of geographic redundancy, packet transport performance, latency and service guarantees.
  • Audit the business' own ISPs, including performance at connecting points, failover capabilities and guaranteed throughput rates to and from the cloud services provider.
  • Monitor and frequently evaluate service and performance elements.

Getting Started

Identifying a process to move into the cloud is no easy task. Tech managers will have to take many factors into consideration to determine which process or service to tackle first. Questions asked should include:

  • How many users will be affected?
  • Will any customization be needed?
  • What infrastructure is in place to support a cloud service?
  • Will any equipment upgrades or changes be needed?
  • What level of availability is required?
  • Will this be a single-site or multi-site pilot project?
  • What level of integration is required?
  • Will staffing levels be affected?

While those questions are a good start, there are probably others that will need to be answered based on the intricacies of the specific business practice affected. Those questions will probably be derived from discussions with users, management and tech staffers.

For most businesses, the next decision comes down to selecting an external host or whether to self host. Self hosting provides the most control, but also can cost a significant amount to accomplish. Those wishing to self host may have to invest in the complete infrastructure, development tools and staffing to build the solution. Self hosting may be a good option for a business seeking to move a highly customized application into the cloud for access by multiple offices or a mobile work force. Beyond that, self hosting often proves to be an overly expensive solution for traditional IT services.

For many businesses, the first services to move to the cloud are e-mail, customer relationship management and IT managed services. While each of those cloud solutions has its own unique challenges, it is safe to say that many of the metrics and measurements are much the same.

Next Page: SLAs and Performance Monitoring

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