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How to select a cloud service provider

All types of businesses, from individual entrepreneurs (self-employed) and startups to large corporations, have a need for cloud services. For small and medium-sized businesses, a cloud provider offers opportunities that were previously available only to large companies with serious IT department costs.

Data center comparison

The demand for the services of cloud service providers is caused by the need to optimize the management of all IT assets, including cost reduction due to the refusal to purchase hardware. In addition to the purchase of hardware, server deployment for an ERP system requires an average of 10-15 types of various licenses, for example, like the ones listed below:

  • DBMS;
  • application servers;
  • server (OS);
  • server connection;
  • database connection;
  • antivirus software;
  • RDP implementation;
  • backup, etc.

Purchasing such a set of licenses “accompanying” the physical server is very expensive. When a contract is signed with a service provider and a service package is selected, the issues related to such licensing become responsibility of the service provider that pays for the necessary licenses.

In addition, migration to cloud-based systems has a lot of advantages, such as:

  • compilation and configuring of solutions based on the client’s specifications (only the necessary options are connected and integrated);
  • improvement and expansion of service functionality, quick adjustment of required functions;
  • stable and highly mobile online operation even on low-end PCs connected to remote desktops;
  • cost-efficiency, since there is no need to purchase off-the-shelf software, expensive hardware, create server rooms, or pay for the work of IT specialists;
  • use of solutions that are inaccessible for the company’s own servers;
  • reliability of critical services due to redundancy of services via Internet channels/data centers/cities/countries.

Migrate to cloud services

To migrate to cloud services, you should select a reputable cloud infrastructure provider that offers a wide range of services, then work with them to develop a migration plan and conduct the necessary pre-testing, as nuances may arise during subsystems migration.

Who is a cloud service provider?

Cloud service providers are companies that design, implement and maintain infrastructure solutions based on cloud computing. A cloud service, in this case, is a network of powerful servers, applications, and network infrastructure that offer clients their resources for reliable storage, fast file sharing, efficient online office operations, work automation, and greater profits.

Cloud service providers

Usually cloud providers offer their clients a customized and ready-to-use IT infrastructure that includes the necessary software, storage systems, databases, applications of choice, networks, computing power, and a user-friendly management interface. Data centers host hardware resources managed remotely via the Internet, which increases scalability, flexibility, reliability and security of operation.

Cloud providers offer numerous options for cloud solutions that can be customized to meet the needs of companies and different business objectives. These options are usually summarized under the XaaS (anything as a service) category. It contains many business models that include Internet and cloud computing, and any aaS solution. Products, tools, technologies, and services are available to users. It is used in European service provider solutions to refer to the combination of private and public cloud services. Particular cases of XaaS are:

  • IaaS (infrastructure as a service). A pool of computing resources for work, designed for a specific client (virtual server, storage, and network). The provider retains ownership of the IT hardware, fully engaged in its purchase, configuration, modernization, security, and operability.
  • PaaS (platform as a service). Customizable software for any needs, for example, to work with Big Data, database, environment for containerized application development or machine learning. The provider independently selects the optimal configuration of virtual servers, settings, updates, and scaling, while the client uses the platform’s interfaces within the framework of his tasks.
  • SaaS (software as a service). Off-the-shelf software installed and running on the service provider’s side and not loading clients’ computers and mobile devices.
  • MaaS (monitoring as a service). Software in the cloud for monitoring, tracking key parameters of IT infrastructure and software online. It helps to optimize the company’s work, reduce the cost of installation and support of monitoring systems.
  • NaaS (network as a service). Client rents network services from a provider with the ability to independently manage networks without building his own network infrastructure. It provides functionality for organizing WAN connections, connecting to data centers, organizing the necessary bandwidth, and ensuring security.
  • SaaS (cloud as a service). A combination of cloud services, all-in-one. This technology combines infrastructure, platform, and software-as-a-service. Cloud technology means that there is no need to buy a network and server hardware, operating systems: they can be leased, and their administration can be handed over to an outsourcing company to save time and money.
  • DCaaS (data center as a service). Rent of infrastructure and physical data center facilities on a remote basis. The service is in demand by companies that cannot scale their own data center. Payment is most often made only for the resources and services that are used.
  • DBaaS (Database as a Service). Multi-user, scalable connection to cloud databases, administered on the provider side. Reduces costs and provides a high level of service when working with databases.
  • DaaS (Desktop as a Service). Customize the workspace of any capacity by means of cloud computing power on a virtual computer for your own tasks.

What is most suitable for you? Maybe you require to optimize your staff or to delegate some tasks to outsourcers? The solution for such tasks is also offered by providers capable of supporting your business services. Before you make a choice, you should conduct a preliminary analysis of the quality of service, interest in solving the client’s problems, and compliance with the services listed on the provider’s website.

For some companies in areas such as public sector, finance, healthcare, and FinTech, it is important that the provider would offer a cloud environment based on specific virtualization technologies with high privacy and a guarantee of secure local data storage in accordance with country-specific legislation. For this purpose, providers develop their own environments for clients, implemented in a private cloud model. In this case, complete physical separation (including networking) from the data of other companies is ensured.

We analyzed about 20 major providers, comparing them according to various criteria and compiled a list of important questions that help to find the most suitable cloud service provider for the client’s tasks.

How to select a provider of cloud solutions?

Providers look alike only at first glance, offering a similar set of services and cloud models. Both low-cost standardized bundled services and more complex services, such as hosting of high-load databases with additional redundancy and fault tolerance or clustering of servers in different countries, are available for different needs.

The largest cloud provider is not necessarily the best one to solve a client’s specific needs if the quality of service does not meet expectations. You may not be satisfied with the speed of response to requests, the lack of a personal manager, the provider’s lack of interest in helping to find compromise solutions in crisis situations, the lack of a chat room for communication, insufficient billing transparency, etc.

In many ways, comparing data centers comes down to what services they provide. The average cloud provider offers the following:

  • colocation;
  • rent of hardware and IT systems;
  • rent of hardware with right of redemption (leasing);
  • rent of premises for racks and servers;
  • cloud solutions;
  • telecommunication services.

It is possible to create IT infrastructure on a virtual platform in a virtual data center, renting virtual desktops (VDI) and SaaS services (for example, to host e-mail). It is good, if it is possible, to replicate the above services (or at least critical elements of IT infrastructure) in minimum two backup data centers. Such sites form a single cluster with a high-speed connection capable of moving virtual machines and sharing disk space.

As a rule, you should be primarily interested in:

  • what types of clouds the provider offers to the client: regular VDS, for banks, FinTech, retail, CRM, ERP, for developers, private/hybrid;
  • what additional services are provided: migration to the cloud, Smart DRaaS (fast recovery of virtual servers due to continuous replication in the cloud repository), BaaS (backups as a service), Block Storage (block storage in the cloud), remote hands for IT infrastructure support, etc.

Every business has its own requirements for a cloud platform. For example, a developer needs the cloud to provide code stability, flexible resources on demand, easy interaction between several employees from different parts of the world, and automation of the backup process. For banking services, the stability of transaction processing and functioning of banking, in case of force majeure, is critical, so the cloud provider should offer a reliable data storage in geographically distributed data centers with increased fault tolerance. When selecting a provider, it is important for retailers to minimize capital investments, respond quickly to seasonal surges, and work with simplified licensing for products purchased from various vendors.

It should be clear that there are many ratings of data centers, hosting providers, service providers, the purpose of which is to present their company in the most favorable way by emphasizing their strengths. Each cloud is placed in a specific data center on which depend reliability, security and fault tolerance of the infrastructure. Therefore, studying ratings and selecting a service provider, including top-5 or top-10, gives only general information and does not take into account the real needs of the client. Meanwhile, it is necessary to evaluate providers according to a much larger number of criteria.

We analyzed more than 20 large data centers in Europe with high security standards and sustainable operating models, offering the creation and maintenance of hybrid solutions (on-premises, remote, cloud) to show to what criterion to pay attention to in order to make the cooperation as effective and long-term as possible.

  • Reliability. The main indicators of reliability are three Uptime Institute certificates and compliance with international TIER III standards.
  • SLA guarantees. Criteria for assessing the quality of services and defining the boundaries of the service provider’s responsibility are equally important. When selecting a cloud service provider, for example, for IaaS services, the availability indicator is critical. When considering a data center with a 99.9% fault tolerance level, it is important to specify what a single downtime period is possible, whether the time is distributed over the course of a year or can be used at once. For a number of clients, 8 hours of downtime per day with uninterrupted operation 365 days a year is unacceptable even in theory.

A cloud provider guarantees such level of SLA assurance that a whole department of system administrators cannot offer. By switching to a cloud provider, the number of IT personnel is downsized, hardware is not purchased, not administered, not placed in a data center, and as a result, funds are freed up that can be used for business development. In some cases, it is possible to reduce a third of operating costs by simply reducing the performance of cloud servers and renting software licenses.

Olga Boujanova
  • Reputation. The importance of this criterion is related to changes in the IT market and the short timeframe for moving to the cloud. When a decision needs to be made quickly, clients prefer providers with good reputation, who have been in the IT market for more than 10 years, have a proven track record and many satisfied clients from across Europe. The more experience they have, the more likely it is that the provider is more efficient, has an established team of specialists with deep competencies, capable of providing the necessary resources and solve business issues of any complexity, and capable of flexible responding to client requests.
  • Availability. For example, when conducting business in Europe, it is better to use European data centers that have their own fiber-optic lines to connect to backup data centers and create a highly available IaaS platform. If it is necessary to create a comfortable environment for clients with modern infrastructure, maximum availability and redundant communication channels, it is better to select a large Internet hub, for example, in Frankfurt.
  • Quality of technical support team. Everyone has technical issues, and the friendlier the technical support specialists are, the more they show their ability to find a solution, the better. Before identifying most suitable service provider for your company, you should compare data centers by the level of their customer care. For example, you should find out whether specialists provide assistance with migration to the cloud, whether they perform audits, how fast is their response time and how formalized the process of their trouble shooting is, whether there is a cloud support engineer available 24/7, what communication channels are provided. In Europe, it is not uncommon to find a service model where compensation is offered when incidents occur, but no feedback is provided containing a forecast about the completion of the trouble shooting process: in some cases this becomes a reason to change providers. Having a personal account manager, especially for companies with many branches, is also great, since an account manager is always aware of the client’s business tasks and does not need to delve into the problem for a long time, while technical support is provided in a single center in different languages.
  • Operational costs. Often they are not so obvious, for example, a number of providers help with migration but only on a fee basis. Meanwhile, other data centers do not charge for consulting, fully ensuring the preparations for the move from project planning to analysis of possible risks. Another unexpected issue may be the amount of traffic provided. It is better to look for a cloud provider that does not limit the amount of incoming and outgoing traffic, providing Internet without any restrictions and additional fees at a fixed cost.
  • Hardware platform (hardware for building the cloud). The higher the class of servers, storage, and network hardware, the more productive and functional the cloud service is. Its reliability is achieved by duplication, redundancy, and the absence of a single point of failure. Continuity of operation is ensured by redundancy of engineering systems, monitoring and round-the-clock maintenance of life support systems. The best choice is provider that offers enterprise solutions, invests in modernization, and does not allow for a single point of failure to occur.
  • Virtualization software and hypervisor. Virtualization underlying the cloud platform is an essential criterion for many companies. It is convenient, profitable, and secure for the client if the provider cooperates with global IT industry leaders. Hypervisors vary in functionality (which affects performance), support of different OS, and have different levels of security. For example, the market leader is VMware, which hypervisors have a high level of security, provides maximum functionality of data center management, integration of local infrastructure, and stability of interaction with the cloud.

It makes sense to select your service provider carefully, especially if your company is already using a private cloud. Preferably, select service providers that use similar platforms, hypervisors and virtualization technologies. This simplifies the migration process, facilitates the creation of a hybrid cloud, and helps to utilize the functionality to integrate both in-house and rented server capacity in the cloud.

Olga Boujanova
  • Performance. It is impossible to say unequivocally, even after studying the ratings of providers, whose cloud is better. Therefore, you have to study their specifications, but often they do not cover all options of the cloud operations. Meanwhile, the performance criterion is responsible for a speed of calculations, number of input-output operations (IOPs), and level of latency (Latency). The cloud provider can ensure that these metrics are utilized and also provide capabilities to manage IPOs.
  • Scalability and resource management. When it comes to deploying infrastructure in the cloud, stability, usability and functionality are important. In this case, in addition to performance management at the IOPs level, the speed of console access, changing RAM and CPU parameters, adding or changing disk parameters are also evaluated.
  • Fault tolerance. A technically complex system is always at risk but failures can be prevented. If they are not prevented, then, at least, minimized in such a way that a failure does not affect the business. The SLA always includes a Service Level Agreement, and the best Uptime indicator for a Tier III provider is 99.82%. A service provider usually has backup sites (both physical and virtual). DRaaS service offers redundancy at different sites connected via optical channels. In case of any hardware failure, the system is restarted on operating servers, and the client does not notice any discomfort during the operation.
  • Easy integration with the cloud. When a company wants to save money without downgrading its service level and quality of service, it is important for it how efficiently it integrates with the cloud service.
  • Self-service portal. For fast cloud deployment, billing, and service management, you should have a personal account, well-functioning and certified billing, flexible tariff plans, and fast increase or decrease of IT resources.

You should find out right away which cloud provider's services are included in the tariff plan and which services are paid for separately. Clients often require service bundles, including discounted ones. For example, the following value-added services (VAD) are in demand: migration to the cloud, creation of a private cloud at the provider's or client's site, deployment or use of operating hybrid clouds, and back up of virtual machines.

Olga Boujanova
  • Planning the development of a cloud service. Clients that use a cloud service should be assured that the provider develops technology platform independently, maintains its operability, engages in its modernization, and does not put it solely into a support mode.
  • Pricing. As a rule, service providers offer contracts for a year; after expiration of the term, the cost of the contract may increase. Therefore, it is better to select a cloud where prices are fixed, for example, for three years.

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Right choice of service provider helps you to reduce the company’s costs, make work more efficient by using the functionality of the cloud system, operate the computing power of cloud servers at different sites, and minimize risks. In order to select the best provider in Europe, you should contact them and discuss the issue of the future cloud migration, request trial access, and test capabilities of the cloud platform. In order not to be disappointed in the service provider, we suggest asking the provider a certain set of questions after receiving answers to which you will be able to make an informed choice.

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Olga Boujanova

Consultant on server hardware and data center organization

Case study: How to choose a certified Tier III data center for server migration in Europe?

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