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Choosing a cloud provider that's in it for the long haul

Switching cloud vendors can be costly, so it's wise to choose a provider that has staying power -- along with the ability to interoperate others.

Switching cloud providers can come at a cost. As a result, it's important to do your homework -- and gauge a cloud provider's staying power -- before putting your data in their hands.

"You bring the partner up to speed, you integrate the partner into your system, and you train the partner on your way of business," said Puneet Shivam, head of U.S. and global co-head of the outsourcing vertical at Avendus Capital, Inc., a financial services firm based in New York. "If you have to change that partner again in a year, then you actually would have lost more than you gained."

Unfortunately, there's no cloud crystal ball to predict providers' lifespans. But there are ways to at least estimate how long they'll stick around. For instance, examine a provider's portfolio closely; those with the greatest breadth tend to stick around longer, Shivam said.

More importantly, get a sense for a provider's technical flexibility. If they seem to place all their bets on a single technology, it's a warning sign. Vendors that embrace or are at least open to emerging technologies are more successful in the long haul. They should also have a knack for attracting and retaining new talent.

While SMBs are best served by a single or smaller portfolio of cloud vendors, large enterprises should strive to work with multiple providers, Shivam said. He suggested they work with three cloud vendor types: 'anchor vendors,' or the Amazon Web Services (AWS) and IBMs of the world; 'specialist vendors' who, like, target a specific business function; and 'wild card vendors,' who tend to be newer and smaller versions of specialist providers.

If you have to change that partner again in a year, then you actually would have lost more than you gained.
Puneet Shivamhead of U.S. and global co-head of the outsourcing vertical at Avendus Capital, Inc.

Diversifying vendors can mitigate risk, Shivam said.

Interoperability should also influence an organization's choice in provider. When it comes to infrastructure as a service (IaaS), especially, enterprises should research which APIs a provider supports, said Catherine Spence, principal engineer and cloud architect at Intel and chair of the Technical Coordination Committee for the Open Data Center Alliance (ODCA).

Interoperability was key in enabling SumAll, a New York-based marketing analytics firm, to transition its workloads in 2013 from AWS to Rackspace.

"For an entire month, we essentially occupied the same hardware in two worlds before we felt confident enough to swing over the pointer to Rackspace and turn off the AWS cloud," said Dane Atkinson, CEO and co-founder of SumAll. "And Rackspace had a background API to AWS, so we just pulled the data. They need to have that linkage."

If an organization has deployed private cloud, but is looking to move some workloads into public cloud, it's helpful if the public cloud provider uses the same underlying technology that's used for the private cloud, said Spence. For example, if a business' private cloud is based on OpenStack, it's best to partner with an OpenStack public cloud provider to ensure maximum integration and interoperability.

Kristin Knapp is site editor for SearchCloudComputing. Contact her at [email protected] or follow @kknapp86 on Twitter.

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