Enterprises across the industry spectrum are looking seriously at moving applications to the cloud in order to reap the benefits of agility, rapid provisioning and self-service capabilities. But building their own private cloud is complex and costly. Instead, many enterprises are choosing to outsource to an established provider of managed cloud services. After all, they already have a robust, secure, enterprise-class cloud infrastructure that’s ready to go...right?
Not necessarily. The fact is, many so-called “enterprise-class” managed clouds are anything but. Despite their claims of availability, security and manageability, many cloud providers fall short of delivering the capabilities required for business-critical enterprise applications.
Making sure a prospective cloud provider is up to the task means going beyond their marketing claims and digging a bit deeper. Here are three key questions enterprise IT leaders should ask any managed cloud service provider before signing on the dotted line.
1. Do they have strong orchestration capabilities?
Orchestration ensures every bit of data moving around in the cloud ends up exactly where it’s supposed to, at exactly the right time. For business-critical apps, this is non-negotiable.
Unfortunately, many private managed cloud infrastructures do not have strong orchestration capabilities. Unlike public clouds, which are built from the ground up with orchestration as a core requirement to enable massive scaling, private clouds are often assembled using off-the-shelf solutions from a variety of vendors. This adds complexity, making it difficult to achieve robust orchestration at scale. Add in specialized business or regulatory requirements
and the challenge is even more difficult.
But some managed cloud providers have seen the light. They recognize the need for a new class of automation and management tools that work in concert with the available orchestration tools to deliver effective orchestration at scale. These tools enable them to orchestrate resources dynamically, when and where they need it -- that's significant.
Consider a key enterprise requirement: fault tolerance. In a traditional data center environment, fault tolerance is usually achieved by deploying the application on hardware that is fully redundant all the time, which is costly. In a cloud environment with dynamic orchestration, fault tolerance can be provided to the application only when needed, going back to a non-fault-tolerant configuration the rest of the time. The provider can meet customer availability requirements with an exceptionally high degree of efficiency.
2. Are they saddled with costly proprietary infrastructure?
Many managed cloud infrastructures are built on older, managed hosting business models. Look behind their curtain of “state-of-the-art” cloud offerings and you’re likely to find inflexible and costly legacy business structures, tooling, processes, and skillsets. You’ll also find proprietary technologies with high license costs, support fees, and other expenses. Why should you have to pay for their legacy investments?
Ask your prospective cloud provider if it embraces the movement toward the new generation of technologies that don’t shackle them (and you) to costly vendors. Open source cloud technologies like OpenStack, Linux, and Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM) are ideal for many core functions and eliminate the “proprietary software tax.”
Cloud providers also need to adopt new technologies that build on these open source frameworks, leveraging their flexibility to maximize efficiency, reliability and automation. This is crucial for delivering basic cloud infrastructure services at a lower cost, and for enabling sophisticated services such as the dynamic fault tolerance discussed above.
Open source cloud technologies are still maturing. But managed cloud providers that begin to adopt new, more efficient approaches to delivering services will be better positioned to serve your needs as the technology continues to advance.
3. Can they deliver the advanced infrastructure services you truly need?
In an attempt to differentiate themselves from “commodity” cloud providers like Amazon and Google -- and to justify their premium prices -- many managed cloud providers are bundling in value-added applications along with their IaaS offerings. But do you really want or need a database app from your cloud provider? Moreover, is it even possible for them to offer an application that will meet everyone’s needs?
Don’t be distracted by this strategy. Instead, focus on their core cloud infrastructure offering and whether it delivers the capabilities you really need. Perhaps the question you should ask is: Are they able to offer a true, fault-tolerant level of availability and/or a guaranteed SLA? Providers who make the right technology investments -- as described above -- should be able to answer “Yes.” If not, you may want to look elsewhere.
The good news is that there are viable options for outsourcing your enterprise’s cloud infrastructure services. But as with any decision touching the “crown jewels” of your enterprise -- your business-critical applications -- you need to ask the right questions. Going beyond claims and getting a clear picture of any prospective managed cloud provider’s environment and business model could be the difference between a strategic IT coup and a career-impacting mistake.
Choosing a cloud provider that embraces new ideas, new approaches and new technologies will position your enterprise to tap the full potential of the cloud to drive business agility and growth. And that’s success no one can question.