Top 8 criteria for choosing a cloud

The cloud matters, and picking the right one is not easy. Migrating to a cloud is not a trivial undertaking, and moving out of one may even be a bit harder, so it’s better to land in the right place right away.

Here are the eight main criteria to think about:

  1. Price-performance ratio
  2. Availability
  3. Connectivity
  4. Security
  5. Support
  6. Features
  7. Geopolitics
  8. Interface

The order of their importance is subjective and can vary a lot depending on who you ask, but I think this hierarchy, from top to bottom, fits most customers. More on that later – first, a comment on each:

1. Price-performance ratio

Virtual servers are just servers that need to perform. Providers do differ substantially in this regard, so it’s possible that for a certain load, a different configuration or number of servers will be needed at different providers. It doesn’t help that providers use a vague performance measure of “1 vCPU”, which is not standardized. That’s why your safest bet is to test the real application.

2. Availability

Most customers want to run operations around the clock, and it’s not easy to determine how providers differ in this important area. Independent portals attempt to measure and publish comparative uptime data for as many providers as possible, but they can’t really achieve this just by running a single random server: It may just happen that a serious incident or downtime doesn’t affect that one particular server, or vice versa.

The global cloud players do have uptime issues that receive a lot of media attention, such as the serious downtime Amazon experienced in February. The big clouds have to cope with incredible scale, complexity and growth, so it is possible that smaller cloud providers achieve better results. In any case, it’s important to have a DR setup and a solid SLA.

3. Connectivity

A cloud without connectivity is nothing. Some applications, like ERP, VDI or any hybrid setup, require low latency. Other uses, such as backups or DR, require massive bandwidth. Enterprise customers also need secure access, which can only be achieved over private lines. Telco providers offering cloud-based services have a tremendous advantage here. 

4. Security

It is typically the customer’s own responsibility to manage security “inside the cloud”. This covers duties from application safeguards and OS updates to user access management. The cloud provider “only” covers the security of the cloud itself, but that still represents a crucial area where absolute proficiency is a must. The security and integrity of customers’ data should be every provider’s top priority, even above performance and availability. The relevant ISO security certificates are the minimum requirement in this area.

5. Support

It is important, yet difficult to understand what specific technical support is included with individual cloud services. Global players, given the scale on which they operate, will charge you even just for asking a question. Therefore, newcomers to the cloud may feel more welcome with local cloud players that speak the local language and are familiar with other relevant regional specificities.

6. Features

Most customers in central and eastern Europe still demand simple virtual servers. Over time however, more advanced features such as load-balancing, snapshots, elastic server provisioning, or advanced monitoring will become more popular. Analysts predict that PaaS features such as object storage or DBaaS will see a big rise in popularity, so choosing a cloud provider with a reasonable focus on innovation is certainly wise.

7. Geopolitics

This has to do with where the cloud provider’s data center and operational staff are located. European entities that handle personal data require their cloud provider to house hardware within the EU. Many customers choose a specific country or region for other legal or tax reasons, but even politics and emotions play a role. Connectivity being a crucial element, physical proximity to the provider is often a major criterion.

8. Interface

The user interface for managing your cloud presence is a subjective criterion – customers differ in what they like. A good interface is comprehensive, intuitive and clean, but IT administrators can get used to anything – and let’s not forget that, over time, it isn’t going to be humans, but rather other computers managing the cloud infrastructure, so having an API access will be more important anyway.

Order of importance

The relative importance of each criterion not only depends on the specific use case, but also on the customer’s size, industry type and skill level. A bank may place security above all other considerations, while a small non-IT company primarily requires strong technical support that is included in the price. Developers want advanced features or API access. Connectivity is essential for specific use cases such as backups or DR, while customers with heavy computational loads may simply choose the bare servers that offer the best price-performance ratio. Online portals and e-shops demand secure connectivity and protection from DDoS attacks, but also benefit from advanced features such as object storage or elastic server provisioning and load-balancing. The price-performance ratio is important for ERP applications, but since their database layer requires heavy IOPS or a licensing model not favorable to the cloud, a cloud provider offering collocation housing for a hybrid setup is the ideal fit.

The order of importance is also likely to change over time. More customers will be ready to build horizontally scaled architectures whose primary goals are scalability and availability. Platform services will become more dominant, and sophisticated network setups will be required. Whatever the future brings, finding the right balance based on a well-thought-out list of criteria is a surefire way for organizations of all types to design their ideal cloud presence. 

Author: Miroslav Pikus Cloud Expert
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