Don’t Get Lost in the Clouds: Nine Questions to Ask When Choosing a Cloud Provider

I wish I thought of that five minutes ago.

Everyone knows this feeling. The best questions and answers often come to us too late, even hours or days later than when we needed. Sometimes a neighbour has such a stupid question that a brief, coherent and concise answer is hard to come by. Other times you get so stressed by an unfriendly atmosphere and long lines at a local bank that you forget some of the questions you wanted to ask.

In everyday situations, it’s okay to not say or ask the right things. You can always explain your point to your neighbour later or call the bank for further information. When you are making important decisions however, it’s better to be prepared.

One of the most important decisions businesses can make these days is the one about adopting the cloud. When negotiating about this relatively new technology, it’s possible to talk about many factors. Here are nine important questions you should ask when choosing a cloud provider, so that you don’t get lost in the cloud.

Remember: it’s important to be ready.

1) Is the cloud suitable for our company?

A simple question that might be difficult to answer. Even though according to experts most companies have already migrated into the cloud and most others will follow in the next few years, the cloud still might not be the right solution for everyone.

Yes, most businesses will profit from the migration. It can make most processes more effective, save money, make people’s jobs easier.

According to a recent study 89 % of companies think that cloud is a top priority.

Nevertheless, it just might not be the right thing to do for some. Maybe they use legacy software or technologies that would not work in the cloud. Many administrators knows a lot of horror stories about ancient equipment some companies still use. Their owners or users are used to one particular program or tech and are refusing to change their ways. Even years after the legacy equipment has been left by its former manufacturer or developer.

In such cases, it’s of course important to consider whether the migration into the cloud should not be accompanied by a pruning of the old tech. As the boss of Portuguese Telecom Manuel Rosa de Silva has remarked: “Legacy holds us back. Hiding it is like putting on cosmetic cream to hide wrinkles. Unless you take a machete to your legacy and kill your applications, you won’t get anywhere.”

2) Where are the data centers?

A cloud-seeking client should not forget to worry about the actual location of where their data and infrastructure are going to be stored. There are many questions that the provider should answer.

The most important question is the most obvious one.

Where are your data centers located?

Around 91 % of data centers suffered losses due to natural disasters in the past

When choosing a provider, you want to be sure that their services will be available anytime you need them. However, data center operation can be suspended by many unexpected events – like natural disasters, for one.

Is the data center located in a flood plain? In an area often hit by earthquakes? Or in a place often hit by storms? There are many different threats and good providers will be ready for them. You should make your choice based on the security of your data and infrastructure. And if at all possible, choose a provider that offers regular backups of your data, infrastructure and computing power to another data center. It’s a useful precaution – and that’s exactly how Master DC’s Site Recovery works. If you’re not familiar with this service, read this post here on our blog.

And there are many more things you could ask about. Don’t forget to find out how secure the data center is. A good provider will not only be prepared for fires and other disasters, but for thieves and hackers as well. The provider should also have the appropriate certificates, like ISO 27001 that assures information security or ISO 9001 that focuses on quality management systems.

3) How are you cooling your data center?

Anyone who is considering cloud adoption should be interested in what way the provider’s data center is cooled. Recently, there’s been a huge growth of the so-called free cooling. If you’re not familiar with the technology, read a post about it here.

Free cooling is not just an interesting tech, it offers real benefits to data center clients. Thanks to saving more than 60 % of electrical energy of a conventional cooling systems, providers have lower operational costs for running their data center. And as a consequence, they can offer their clients better prices. And such data center will also be more eco-friendly.

4) How does your customer support work?

Almost everyone has probably waited for a plumber or an electrician for hours at least once in their life.

That’s something you definitely don’t want to go through with your cloud provider. Especially if they’re running your key applications or infrastructure, or even a profitable internet shop.

According to experts, cloud providers’ customer support should be available 24/7. Make sure that’s the case with the provider you are considering. Find out if the SLA – service level agreement – clearly defines the areas that the provider is accountable for. At Master DC, our support team is on hand 24/7, ready to solve any problems you might have.

5) What happens if you lose my data?

Asking all these negative questions, you might feel like a proper worrywart. These questions do have a purpose behind them though – you need to know that you are dealing with sensible people. Accidents and disasters do happen. What separates the wheat from the chaff is how prepared the provider in question actually is for them.

So don’t feel afraid to ask even about unusual situations. What happens, if your data is accidentally deleted, damaged or lost? This should never happen with a good provider, but their people should still be able to explain what the process is for these situations. Do the SLAs cover it? And what redundancy does the provider use?

If the provider in question is not able to answer your inquiries to your satisfaction, give them a wide berth.

6) What services can you offer us?

It might sound silly, but you should still actually ask what services the provider can offer you. These might differ a lot between providers, especially in additional services. So where one company will offer you just simple backups, another one will trump it with a whole backup infrastructure and computing capacity reserved in another location. Things like these should help you make a decision.

Some additional services can be useful immediately. But it’s good to look ahead as well. Maybe one of them isn’t useful to you now, but it could be in the future, when your company grows a little.

7) What solutions would you recommend?

Some people like to make their own opinions. They read a lot about the topic in question, find out heaps of information and practically become “layman experts”. But even if one is sure about how cloud works, what it should do for his company and how it should solve his problems, he or she should still ask the opinion of an expert. So ask your provider what services they would recommend.

Every good cloud provider will do his utmost to make their clients happy. It’s simple – a happy client will stay with them for a long time. An unhappy customer, even if they’re paying a huge monthly fee, will not be as profitable to them in the long term – because they will likely jump ship in a few months.

The provider will hence try to offer you the services that will meet your needs the best. Take advantage of that when choosing a cloud – maybe your company infrastructure could make use of some new service that you haven’t heard about yet. This industry is striding forward rather quickly and so it’s best to get advice from someone who keeps up with the pace.

8) What are the payment options?

When finding out about the payment options, most people will primarily focus on price of the service as a whole. However, it’s better to take note of the possible payment plans. If the provider offers a pay-as-you-go model, you could save a lot of money in times when you don’t actually use your cloud. If you haven’t heard about this billing option yet, read our post about flexibility.

9) And what about the cloud performance?

When choosing cloud, most people do care about its performance – if for no other reason than it being a main factor in cloud price.

Asking this question opens an important area for consideration – how much performance do we actually need? Will the provider be able to scale up quickly when our needs eventually grow? Such questions should be considered early on.

There’s another benefit to considering performance. You might just find out that you won’t need one of the performance aspects to be so high. For instance, your infrastructure might need a fast CPU and a lot of memory, but not a lot of storage space.

If your provider doesn’t offer this option, feel free to ask whether you can scale a particular cloud aspect down. There’s no need to pay for something you don’t need. An ideal solution is the one used by Master DC – clients can configure the cloud performance themselves through an easy-to-use interface on our website.

The cloud’s operation heavily relies on virtualization, which in turn strongly depends on the performance of storage. Don’t forget to consider the number of input and output operations per second (IOPS) that the system is capable of. Some unprofessional providers don’t state this number at all, even though it’s closely tied to the cloud’s performance and price. Higher IOPS are offered by SSD storage technology, but it’s generally more expensive than the slower mechanical drives – but those usually have higher capacity. You can read more about them in our comparison of both technologies.

Be prepared and ask questions

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by information when discussing any new tech. It’s important to ask questions and find out the best possible solution for company’s needs. Now you know nine questions that you can ask when choosing the right cloud provider.

What about your experiences? What did you ask the provider? Which aspects of the cloud are important for you? Leave us a comment and share your thoughts.

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