How to Choose the Best Cloud Provider in the Market
We saw in our earlier blog “How to Choose Between Cloud-based and On-premise solutions” that businesses today are deciding between cloud-based deployments and on-premise solutions. Enterprises typically evaluate their business needs well and deliberate on what each option has to offer, before choosing either cloud or on-premise. Once you make the decision, there is the other big decision on which third-party provider to select. There are various options available and, once again, you need to consider various factors while choosing the right cloud provider for your needs.
CLOUD PROVIDERS IN THE MIX
There are several players in the market to choose from. These include Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform (GCP), as well as a host of smaller or niche players.
AWS has been around the longest and is probably the most popular choice. However, today businesses are also keenly looking at additional providers as well.
Some of the reasons to choose one cloud provider over another would be security, pricing, migration capability, and a host of reasons that could be specific to the business need.
CRITERIA FOR SELECTING CLOUD PROVIDERS
As you determine which cloud provider(s) you will use, you will want to evaluate the options that different providers offer and look at how they would support your unique business characteristics and objectives. The principal elements to consider for almost every company are as follows:
BUSINESS HEALTH AND COMPANY PROFILE
This is obviously a factor that you should consider while selecting a third-party provider. The reputation of the provider, the feedback from customers and the track record of successes are an indication. In addition, the technical and operational capabilities of the provider are obviously important, as also is the financial health of the organization.
COMPLIANCE, CERTIFICATION AND STANDARDS
Providers that comply with recognized standards and quality frameworks demonstrate an adherence to industry best practices and standards, and that makes them good potential providers to consider for your needs. For instance, if security is a priority, look for suppliers accredited with certifications like ISO 27001 or the government’s Cyber Essentials Scheme. Also, if you are beholden to GDPR, SOC 2, PCI DSS, HIPAA, or any other frameworks, make sure you understand what compliance you need and ensure the provider can give that.
Beyond industry standards and certification, I also look for structured processes, effective data management, good knowledge management, and service status visibility. These differentiate a dependable provider from the others.
DATA GOVERNANCE AND INFORMATION SECURITY
Security is the single most top concern in the cloud, and so it is critical to ask detailed and explicit questions that relate to your unique use cases, industry, regulatory requirements, and any other concerns you may have. You may have industry-specific security needs, or domain/technology-specific. Whatever the need may be, the provider should be able to give a framework for data governance and information security that can meet your requirements. To assess the cloud provider’s levels of data and system security, the maturity of security operations and security governance processes, and also ensure user access and activity is auditable via all routes and get clarity on security roles and responsibilities.
In this regard, it is prudent to also look into the provider’s data loss, breach notification processes, and ensure they are aligned with your organization’s risk appetite and legal or regulatory obligations. Also check for assurances of resource allocation, such as budget and headcount to maintain compliance to quality frameworks, and ask for internal security audit reports, incident reports and evidence of remedial actions for any issues raised.
TECHNOLOGY AND ARCHITECTURE
The technology that is already prevalent in your organization could be a deciding factor in choosing your cloud provider. For example, if your organization has already invested heavily in the Microsoft universe, it might make sense to proceed with Azure, since Microsoft gives its customers licenses. If your organization relies more on Amazon or Google services, then it may be best to look to those vendors for ease of integration and consolidation.
Additionally, consider cloud storage architectures when making your decision. Assess the cloud architecture, standards, and services that will suit your workloads and management preferences. Ensure you have a good understanding of the support being provided on the technology. If the provider enlists the help of third party support for technical support, then you may need to examine the third party supplier with equal diligence.
A service and integration roadmap is required so that you can align your service requirements to the provider’s deliverables. Ensure clear definition of the service and deliverables and get clarity on the roles and responsibilities relating to the service (delivery, provisioning, service management, monitoring, support, escalations, etc.) and how that is distributed between customer and provider. An important aspect of service is manageability – you need to ascertain how much time and effort it will take your team to manage various aspects of the cloud infrastructure before you make a final decision. Service evaluation is essential when businesses have strict needs in terms of availability, response time, capacity, and support. Cloud Service Level Agreements (Cloud SLAs) are an important element to consider when choosing a provider.
Support is another parameter that requires careful consideration. The provider should be able to provide quick and timely help to resolve issues. Ask questions upfront about what level and form of support you will have access to before you choose a cloud provider.
CONTRACTS AND COMMERCIALS
Cloud providers have a variety of pricing models they offer. Typically, pricing variables are based on the period of usage with some providers allowing for by the minute usage as well as discounts for longer commitments. The most common model for SaaS-based products is on a per-user, per month basis. PaaS and IaaS pricing models are more granular, with costs for specific resources or ‘resource sets’ consumption.
Look for flexibility in terms of resource variables and terms of speed to provision and de-provision. Some of the pricing models of leading providers are given below.
- AWS: Amazon determines price by rounding up the number of hours used. The minimum use is one hour. Instances can be purchased in one of three ways: Pay-as-you-go: Pay for what you use, no upfront cost, Reserved: Reserve instances for one or three years, with an upfront cost based on utilization and Volume discounts: Acquire more services as the company grows, and receive volume discounts for specific services.
- Google Cloud Platform: GCP bills for instances per second used. Interestingly, Google also offers “sustained-use pricing” and “committed use discounts” for computing services that offer a simpler and more elastic model compared to AWS’s reserved instances.
- Azure: Azure bills customers on-demand by the hour, gigabyte, or millions of executions, depending on the specific product. They also provide the option to reserve instances, like AWS.
BUSINESS AND LEGAL TERMS
Review the business and legal terms of provider agreement to ensure you are aligned on the specific terms relating to Indemnification, Intellectual property rights, Limitation of liability and warranties. Also check the policies on contract renewals and exit or modification notice periods, insurance policies, guarantees and penalties, auditing operations and compliance to policies.
MIGRATION SUPPORT, VENDOR LOCK-IN & EXIT PLANNING
Avoid the risk of vendor lock-in by ensuring your chosen provider has minimal use of proprietary technology or you minimize the use of services that limit your ability to migrate or transition away. Ideally, select value-added services that have competitive and comparable alternatives in the market and put policies in place to periodically review the options to minimize lock-in risk.
Similarly, ensure you have a clear exit strategy in place at the start of your relationship. Furthermore, consider how you will get access to your data, what state it will be in and for how long the provider will keep it.
HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT CLOUD PROVIDER
Follow the steps below to arrive at the right criteria for your business – this will help you choose the right provider for your needs.
- Clarify your requirements and align to your organization needs – Ensure that you are very clear with your data requirements. If you know what you are looking for (and not looking for), it makes it easier to choose. For instance, if yours is a fledgling company that is not yet technologically mature and advanced, you could go with cloud-based team collaboration tools such as G Suite, cloud file storage options like Dropbox or (Amazon Web Services) AWS, and cloud CRM software like Salesforce. If yours is a big business with fairly advanced and mature needs, then you could consider more advanced cloud computing services, including AWS and Microsoft Azure’s App Service.
- Determine the best pricing model for your needs – Cloud deployment reduces upfront IT costs, which can be a real burden on your resources when starting a company. Different cloud services have different pricing structures. In the beginning, it may be good to go with a pay-as-you-use model – this will help you optimize costs as well as validate the model for your needs.
- Ascertain the level of information security you need – Cloud deployment typically means trusting a third party with your information. Hence, look for security certifications, data encryption, and watertight user authentication policies as minimum requirements. Additionally, depending on your industry, you may need to adhere to specific regulatory requirements that dictate what you do with customer data. Make sure your cloud provider is compliant with any relevant laws in your industry.
- Assess the level of data access and support you need – It is helpful to know the level of customer support and data access the provider will give. This could be a decider, based on the level of supporting your business needs.
- Ensure you are getting the backup you require – Determine the amount of backup facility you need and examine the available providers for the cloud backup that they provide
- Be aware of the SLAs the provider commits to – Since your business will now depend on a third-party provider, you need to know what you can expect. This could be in terms of service delivery or commercial clauses.
With so many cloud service providers in the market, it is imperative that you know which one is best suited for your needs. In order to do that you need to first understand the criteria that is used to determine the best service provider, and then analyze your own business needs vis-à-vis those criteria in order to choose the provider for your needs.