Selecting the right cloud IT services provider


Companies of all sizes have started to at least consider the cloud as a way to improve IT operations. Some organizations started with cloud-based email to see whether the technology could be trusted and others now entrust providers with more complicated activities like B2B integration. The cloud has become so commonplace that even long-standing adoption barriers like security are on the decline. It's easy to get caught up in the enthusiasm, but business and IT leaders should have a clear set of expectations before diving headfirst into cloud computing services.

Testing the waters
describe the imageFor most organizations, moving to the cloud too quickly would be like jumping into a lake on a brisk morning - sure, they might be refreshed, but not without an initial shock to their systems. It may seem obvious, but not enough decision makers take the time to understand their organization's requirements and align those with what cloud providers actually do. Part of the problem is the hype - sometimes, it isn't easy to identify what a vendor provides and why it's better than the competition. Businesses can't afford to cut corners on their way to the cloud, but by paying close attention to several key factors, they can at least narrow down the field of acceptable choices. Two of the areas that IBM senior manager Armen Najarian recently highlighted in the Smarter Commerce blog should be addressed prior to implementation

Software-as-a: Don't forget service
It's tempting to focus on the technological advantages of the cloud, since migration deals with highly technical issues and factors like uptime and performance are core concerns for IT departments. Just as important, though, are the additional services that can come with a cloud offering, and the way the provider communicates its guarantees. As Najarian explained, the way cloud vendors communicate their service-level agreements, how terms like availability are defined and how frequently updates are deployed can significantly impact the return on investment of the cloud. 

Providers that place emphasis on the value of service will have these factors clearly defined and outlined, and they will be able to answer tough questions such as whether they are audited regularly and can provide certifications to prove it. While evaluating potential options, it may be helpful to craft a list of top priorities based on what organizations hope to accomplish and what they they need from an IT services company, whether it is to shore up a gap in technical expertise, a desire for greater cost efficiency or to expand their IT infrastructure without making capital purchases.

"Glossing over these other important service components to the SaaS business model can put a company at a real disadvantage," Najarian wrote. "Expectations can be off the mark resulting in wasted cycles, longer time to value, and an overall poor user experience."

Get the C-Suite on board
One of the ways that a cloud deployment can go wrong is when internal stakeholders are not all on the same page. According to Najarian, this makes even the daily cloud management decisions more challenging than they need to be. As a result, it is important that management and executives have a clear view of their organization's overall IT strategy, including the reasons for cloud adoption, data security needs and how user access is managed.

This problem in particular is important to address because it touches on a much larger issue for IT departments. The cloud has brought new expectations to the table, as business managers are now able to provision technology resources. This means that IT leaders will need tools to maintain visibility over cloud environments and will need to balance demand for user freedom with enough control to keep costs low.

Cloud contracts: Negotiate the fine print
Once businesses have found the ideal cloud provider, the time for paperwork comes. In addition to addressing concerns about availability, the contract should establish responsibility. For instance, which party is held accountable in the event of a data breach? Does the provider take responsibility or does it fall on the customer to implement their own data-centric safeguards? As Gartner research vice president John Morency said, "the devil is in the details." 

TechTarget highlighted several core areas that Morency discussed at the 2013 Gartner Security and Risk Management Summit. Before signing the contract, for example, businesses should know how much compensation is offered if downtime puts them in breach of contract. Some service providers offer as little as 20 percent of the time lost - given the high cost of downtime on its own, this is likely unacceptable for companies that plan to move mission-critical operations.

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