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Warning signs it's time to switch cloud providers

Not all cloud providers and their users are a match made in heaven. Whether it's cost or security concerns, here are the most common red flags that it's time to switch cloud providers.

Cloud attracts customers like a moth to a flame -- after all, it's cost-effective, requires little upfront investment and brings many other benefits to an enterprise.

But afterward, reality can set in. Maybe your needs were not as you anticipated. Or, perhaps a cloud provider's service doesn't provide the advantages you thought it would. Whatever the reason, most organizations will eventually have to determine if they've reached a tipping point and need to switch cloud providers.

There are three common signs it's time to switch cloud providers, said Jeff Kaplan, managing director at THINKstrategies Inc., a consulting firm in Wellesley, Mass. He said it's time to move when you need to alert your provider you're having problems; when your provider doesn't have a clear issue escalation or notification process; and when the provider fails to close the loop on issues such as service tickets.

Similar red flags include poor delivery on service-level agreements (SLAs), poor application performance stemming from multi-tenant environments and difficulty tracking operational metrics, said Chris Leiner, director at Information Services Group, an advisory firm in Stamford, Conn. Another common sign it's time to make a move is when the cloud provider can't meet imminent regulatory changes, he said.

Cost is king

While performance and delivering on SLAs is critical, the real elephant in the room may be money. In some cases, customers find themselves paying more for cloud computing services than they anticipated, which could mean it's time for a change.

"Cost is the No. 1 issue I've encountered with cloud service providers," said Marc Prosser, co-founder of New York-based Fit Small Business, a sort of Consumer Reports service for small businesses. Specifically, he explained, cloud providers will sometimes rope customers in with low prices, and then greatly increase the annual cost when the first year is up.

It's a similar issue consumers run into with cable providers, Prosser said, where the inconvenience of switching service providers discourages users from doing so -- even as prices increase. Cloud users should try to negotiate a long-term price guarantee to prevent providers from dramatically upping the price when their contract runs out, he said.

Consolidation, security among other drivers

Consolidation can also be a key reason to switch cloud providers, said Ken Danila, director of information systems at Woodard & Curran, an engineering firm headquartered in Portland, Maine. Danila was involved with a decision to gradually move on-premises assets to the cloud. Those assets were moved to Panzura, a hybrid cloud and global file-system provider, with Amazon Web Services (AWS) as the cloud back end.

Over time, more services were moved to the cloud. However, since the company was already using products such as Office 365, it eventually chose to migrate from AWS to Microsoft Azure to consolidate vendors and spend.

If that provider is not prioritizing security on all levels of cloud storage, then I would immediately recommend switching.
Paul Kublerdigital forensics and cybersecurity examiner at LIFARS

"Moving to Azure and other Microsoft cloud services like Office 365 gives us better discounting, a single cloud provider and simpler administration," Danila said.

Security issues are another common reason to switch cloud providers, according to Paul Kubler, digital forensics and cybersecurity examiner at LIFARS, a cybersecurity intelligence and incident response firm based in New York.

"If that provider is not prioritizing security on all levels of cloud storage, then I would immediately recommend switching," he said. "This is because someone else has control of the data, and if they don't keep it secure, it might as well be public information."

Bringing another cloud provider into the mix

Regardless of whether you plan to replace your current cloud provider, there can be good reasons for bringing in an additional provider, Leiner said. This could be involuntary as a result of an acquisition, or when a line of business demands a faster time to market than a current cloud provider can offer.

More strategically, if a cloud provider is not aligned with your goals, it may be time to supplement or replace them. For example, said Leiner, not all cloud providers have platform as a service offerings.

If you are launching a new service or major update, you should review offers from a range of cloud service providers.

"Amazon and others continually introduce new products and adjust pricing. These new services may save you money, improve reliability or boost performance," noted Jeff Huckaby, CEO of rackAID LLC, an IT management consulting firm based in Jacksonville, Fla. Launching a new project will ease you into the management framework of your new cloud vendor. That way, should you need to migrate existing operations, you are already familiar with the services, terminology and process.

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