Virtual Advisor

6 Questions for Cloud Services Providers

Are you going to the cloud? If so, these questions will help you.

Are you going to the cloud? If so, these questions will help you.

If you're considering workloads for the cloud, considering an entire cloud strategy or considering moving your entire datacenter into the cloud, I think you're on the right path for success within your IT organization. The cloud, when properly leveraged, can be a huge cost cutter and a big help when it comes to delivering services in a timely manner to meet business expectations.

While the decision to offload certain workloads to the cloud is a good one, spotting and understanding the fine print of what each services provider offers will be the determining factor between a successful cloud project and a disappointing one. So what are the questions you should be asking your cloud services providers? Here are a few I think are imperative.

1. Who can see my information, and how are changes audited? Data loss and leakage is a huge concern in internal IT, let alone the cloud. Typically, administrators have access to manipulate your data (copy, send, delete and so on), and there might be a legitimate reason to empower these admins. But the question is: What are the processes and procedures that the cloud services provider has implemented to monitor these elevated privileges, and how are they being used?

2. What is the services provider's data-protection strategy? If knowing who can see your data is important, it's even more important to know what the cloud provider is doing to protect that data. You're essentially trusting the cloud with your valuable corporate information, and you should be well versed in how the cloud services provider intends to not only protect it, but back it up and restore it as well. Does the provider have full backups or incremental? If the latter, can it restore full images from these incremental backups at any given point in time?

3. How is multi-tenancy handled? The cloud is all about economies of scale and shared infrastructures, and that should be an acceptable notion going into this endeavor. But what you should be asking is: How does the cloud provider enforce logical separation, and how does it ensure security isolation? Specifically, how does it ensure that your data isn't mixed with other tenants' data?

4. If I use the service, am I locked in? Most of us don't like the idea of being locked in with one cloud provider, as that gives the provider too much leverage over us. It's also a barrier for agility and flexibility. A very valid question you should be asking your cloud provider is how easy is it to migrate to another provider should the need come up.

5. What service-level agreements (SLAs) are provided? If you put your workloads in the cloud and these workloads do not perform up to -- or better than -- your expectations and requirements, the entire project is rendered pointless. As a result, it's crucial that you investigate the SLAs the cloud provider is offering, especially if your workload is in a production environment that impacts your company's primary income-generating process.

6. What is the services provider's financial status? You're obligated to ask about the financial health of the provider to which you're trusting your data and workloads. You need to know how it's funded, if it's profitable and who's behind the company. If individuals are behind the company, you need to know all about them, including their history. If it's venture capitalists, you want to investigate them and find out what other companies they've launched successfully -- and unsuccessfully.

This is just a sample of the questions you should be thinking about. Pay careful attention to how long it takes the cloud provider to address these questions. For example, if you ask for the company's financials and it takes two weeks to get back to you, you can easily detect that no serious customer has used this platform before. The small things will make a huge difference when you're investigating these providers.

About the Author

Elias Khnaser owns professional services firm The Elias Khnaser Company and is an expert on VMware ESX, Microsoft Hyper-V and Citrix XenServer. Elias has authored many books and published a number of training videos on the subjects of virtualization and server based computing, primarily Citrix and Terminal Services. He has blogged for Forbes and eWeek.

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