What to Ask, and Not Ask, Your Cloud Hosting Provider

    If you’re shopping around for a cloud hosting provider, it’s probably because you drew the short straw. Let’s face it: Nobody wants that onus. If the company goes with your recommendation, and something bad happens during the implementation or anytime thereafter, guess where the fingers are going to point. So what’s your best chance of avoiding all that finger-pointing?

    I recently addressed that question with Eric Nailburg, director of product management at INetU, a managed hosting and cloud service provider in Allentown, Pa. Nailburg was kind enough to come up with six questions you definitely need to ask when considering a cloud hosting provider. Here they are, with Nailburg’s color commentary, in no particular order:

    • Can the cloud hosting provider customize its solution to meet your applications’ needs? Many cloud providers don’t have the means to customize each component of the cloud to your applications’ specific needs, but instead lock you into pre-defined packaging. A hosting provider that takes an individualized approach to looking at both your business and applications needs can greatly enhance your success in the cloud.
    • How detailed is the migration plan, and how involved is the provider during the migration/onboarding process? A detailed migration plan is important because it can uncover items in your current infrastructure that were initially missed during the design. Having the hosting provider involved in the migration is an added bonus, because their expertise and knowledge of infrastructure, along with any security or compliance requirements, can be leveraged to guarantee that your application migrates to the cloud or new provider successfully.
    • How proactive is the provider’s support group in identifying and responding to potential problems? In cloud hosting, support is everything. Having a skilled team of cloud experts monitor and support your cloud environment means that you can shift your team’s focus to supporting your business. If you have to call first before they react to an issue, it may be too late for your application and business.
    • Does the provider support auto-scaling, up and down? Businesses can change quickly. It’s critical to ensure that the cloud hosting provider infrastructure can be flexible enough to adapt to your cloud configuration and your changing business needs. If your system needs to scale up or down, how automated is that process, and how long will scaling take?
    • What solutions and services does the hosting provider offer to help your cloud recover from a disruption? When you move your data to an offsite, third-party data center, being able to plan for and respond to disruptions is important. Ensure that your cloud hosting provider utilizes and offers trusted business continuity solutions, including backup, disaster recovery, and high availability. And make sure it provides services to help you identify recovery point objective (RPO) and recovery time objective (RTO) targets.
    • Does the provider comply with and support you for any regulations that your business may require? Not all businesses need to comply with regulations like PCI and HIPAA. However, those that do must follow strict guidelines to protect certain data. If a cloud provider complies with PCI or HIPAA regulations, it indicates that not only does it have expert staff in that field, but also that it takes the data in the data center seriously and, at minimum, follows the compliance guidelines to ensure security and privacy.

    Nailburg also addressed the questions you should avoid asking. Here are the three he came up with, along with his reasoning:

    • What is the provider’s availability record? This may seem like a very important question, and it is. However, it should be noted that if you’re researching a reputable hosting provider, many of the organizations that report on downtime don’t look at the clients of the provider, but only at the provider’s website. This can create false positive or negative results, since it isn’t a customer production environment.
    • Why can’t I purchase a hosting solution from your site by just giving a credit card? Not all hosting providers are the same. Many do not provide swipe-and-go for new customers, because they want to vet out the customer’s environment to ensure it will be designed correctly. Also, some don’t accept just anyone into their cloud. Many enterprise-level cloud providers who are focused on running business applications will not allow spammers or pornography, for example, to run within their cloud.
    • If your cloud is compliant, will my application also be compliant? Although the answer might seem obvious, I have heard the question many times. People go to a hosting provider who claims PCI compliance, for example, and assume that their application now will be compliant because it is running there. That isn’t the case. There are many pieces of the application outside of the infrastructure that must be compliant, as well.

    A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.

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