Avoid surprises, do your homework on cloud computing service providers

Cloud service providers often advertise high redundancy, but they have been found hiding critical details. Research is vital to avoiding surprises.

The benefits of cloud services and the capabilities of several cloud platforms are by now well-established. The cloud industry offers customers a continuum of different choices, ranging from pure infrastructure to infrastructure platforms integrated with services. When comparing cloud providers, customers can fairly easily evaluate the service capabilities, technical features and benefits of each, as well as the niche services that comprise the total solution.

But, before you build a decision matrix and fill it with criteria such as pricing, features and benefits, carefully qualify the base critical infrastructure (backup generators, UPS, cooling infrastructure, security) for each vendor you will evaluate. Here are a few questions to help you look under the cloud provider’s hood:

  • Does the base critical infrastructure have the redundancy you need to meet your service-level agreements?
  • How is the infrastructure designed? Maintained?
  • What visibility will you have into the performance of the critical infrastructure?
  • Does the cloud provider have people with the right skills on staff?

Don’t Assume Anything

At our consultancy, in our assessment of cloud providers, we’ve observed surprising issues with their critical infrastructure. Many providers advertise their highly redundant architectures, but we’ve found potential risks that need to be quantified and understood before migrating important applications. Some observations from the front lines have been particularly startling. A facility advertising N+1 backup power generation, for example, had only a single generator. Another described an “N+1” uninterruptible power supply (UPS) infrastructure—but used only a single UPS. In another case, a facility owned and operated by a team had no previous experience managing a commercial data center, and no experience whatsoever in managing critical infrastructure. Others promise “fully redundant network connectivity” but deliver services via a “collapsed ring” (i.e., with no physical diversity, so a single backhoe could completely disconnect the facility). In an online world, where both revenue and reputation rely on 100% IT uptime, risking your business by deploying into the cloud without knowing and managing the risk could be a recipe for disaster. Last year’s Amazon outage is reported to have cost the company between $16,000 and $30,000 per MINUTE, and that doesn’t count the cost to Amazon’s clients. So, you need to be sure you know what’s going on inside that cloud, too.

The benefits and capabilities of the cloud are so compelling that cloud services will continue to play an increasing role in companies’ hybrid (private, colocation, cloud) compute platform infrastructure. Customers will choose the cloud for a multitude of reasons, including flexibility, speed of deployment, disaster recovery and geographic diversity, to name a few.

But, if your expectations for cloud services require the reliability and availability found in N+1, concurrently maintainable infrastructure, avoid simply buying a brand and relying on vendor claims and advertising. To avoid nasty surprises down the road, understand the risk profile of the base critical infrastructure of your potential provider before you migrate applications to their cloud platform. It’s reasonable to consider the cloud services you deploy as transient, but think of your relationship with the provider and its critical infrastructure as a long-term one.

About the author:
Steve Gunderson is a principal at Transitional Data Services.

This article originally appeared in the December/January issue of Modern Infrastructure.

This was first published in January 2013

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