By Vikas Bhonsle, CEO, Crayon Software Experts India
As more and more IT systems are outsourced, zeroing in the best cloud providers is critical to long-term success. The market is already vast, with different brands offering large numbers of services. Apart from the big providers like Microsoft, Amazon and Google, there are also smaller niche players, who provide bespoke services.
With too many choices to opt from, you must put down the selection and procurement process appropriate as per the needs.
The Right Time to Select a Cloud Provider
It is significant to understand the requirements of a business before choosing a cloud service provider. Clarifying the specific requirements and minimum expectations in advance, while assessing providers ensures that they are compared against the requirement checklist and not against their competitors. It is a faster way to narrow down the list of providers.
With more clarity on the requirements such as technical, service, security, data governance and service management, you will be better prepared to interrogate and negotiate with your potential providers.
Common Areas to Focus While Choosing a Service Provider
Apart from the unique requirements that a company will have from a cloud provider, there are some common areas of focus during any service provider assessment.
- Certifications & Standards – Providers must comply with recognised standards and quality frameworks, which demonstrate adherence to industry best practices and standards. This may not only help to determine which service provider is best to choose from, but they can be very helpful in shortlisting potential suppliers.
- Technologies Integration & Migration Services – The cloud provider’s technology must support the cloud objectives of your organisation. Assess what migration services they can provide and how much customisation is required to integrate with their platforms. In the case of some providers offering limited services, understand if any third party support is needed and if the platform provider can recommend any that have experience and extensive knowledge of the target platform.
- Support – For SaaS (Software as a Service) providers, a roadmap of features, service and integration is highly desirable. Depending on the particular cloud strategy, companies may also want to evaluate the overall portfolio of services that providers can offer. If you plan to use separate services from a broad mix of providers then this is not very relevant, but if the preference is to use only a few key cloud service providers, it is important for the providers to offer a good range of compatible services.
- Data Management – Data management and security are currently of foremost importance. You can opt for providers that give the best choice and control regarding the jurisdiction in which the data is stored, processed and managed. Cloud service providers should be transparent about their data centre locations, but you should also be proactive in finding this information. Assess the data encryption strategies of the provider and the measures that they take to protect data. Look to understand the provider’s data loss and breach notification processes and ensure they are aligned with your organisation’s risk appetite and legal or regulatory obligations.
- Service Dependencies & Partnerships – Certain factors such as the service provider’s relationships with their key vendors, their accreditation levels, technical capabilities and staff certifications can be crucial in choosing the best provider. It is pivotal to uncover any service dependencies and partnerships involved in the provision of cloud services. For example, SaaS providers will often build their service on existing IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) platforms. Thereby, it must be clear how and where the service is being delivered.
- Contracts, Commercials & SLAs – Cloud agreements and SLAs should specify how issues should be identified and resolved, by whom and in what period. Look for a clear definition of the service and deliverables. Get clarity on the roles and responsibilities relating to the service (delivery, provisioning, service management, monitoring, support, escalations, etc.) Scrutiny of these terms is vital, as often service credit calculations are complex – ask for worked examples or give all shortlist providers the same imaginary downtime scenario and compare different compensations offered.
- Reliability & Performance – Several methods can be employed to measure the reliability of a service provider. First, check their performance against their SLAs for the last 6-12 months. Secondly, know how the provider deals with downtime, as it is inevitable with most cloud services. Also, there should be documents and proven processes for dealing with planned and unplanned downtime. Get clarity of their methods and practices of communicating with customers during times of disruption. This includes their timeliness, how do they prioritise and what is the severity level assessment of issues.
- Migration Support, Vendor Lock in & Exit Planning – Cloud providers may use proprietary technologies, which lead to vendor lock-in during exit, meaning that a customer cannot easily transit to another provider, as the technology will not be compatible. It can impact portability to other providers or in-house operations. It is especially true if applications have to be re-architected in order to run on a service provider platform. It is eliminated by ensuring that the chosen provider has minimal use of proprietary technology. Similarly, ensure there is a clear exit strategy in place at the start of the deal. Moving away from one cloud service provider isn’t always an easy or smooth transition, so it’s worth knowing their processes before signing a contract. Furthermore, consider how the data will be accessible, what state it will be in and for how long the provider will keep it.
- Business health & Company profile – Assessing the technical and operational capabilities of a potential supplier is important. At the same time, the provider must be in the best financial health and profile. The most compatible or competitive cloud service is immaterial if the provider doesn’t have a sound business. Contractual assurances and good intentions cannot save the day, if the providers get into financial troubles and do not have the resources to refund the losses. Check if the organisation has had entangled legal history and how they have been responding to it. Learn if they have any planned corporate changes, mergers and acquisitions, or business aspirations coming forth. Look at their customer history, who have they worked with and their preferred vertical, which may prompt investment in valuable niche offerings.