Notes from the CRONET team: Provider Selection

Selecting a cloud IaaS/PaaS provider reminds me of the “good old days” of server deployments, with many vendors offering diverse hardware and software solutions, and tangible differences between them.

Our client’s cloud provider choices have run the gamut of offerings, including:

  • Large cloud-only offerings by Internet-based companies = Amazon, Google
  • Systems tied to their existing data center/communications vendor = CenturyLink, Verizon, Terremark
  • Offerings by traditional software/hardware vendors = Microsoft, VMWare, HP
  • More specialized offerings focused on disaster recovery, high-performance computing, or other subsets = Skytap, Hosting, CloudSigma

While assisting our clients with cloud platform selections, we’ve found some common decision points that require careful consideration.  These include:

Data networking choices for flexibility and security
We’ve seen major differences in data networking capabilities between IaaS providers.  Determining the connectivity requirements for all layers of your planned IaaS deployment is a key design step.

Provider differences in connectivity between IaaS components, application users, and key supporting services often tip the choice to one provider or another.  For example, a client recently chose the IaaS platform of its data center provider, as the workload to be deployed required extensive connectivity to database and file servers running in the client-owned physical infrastructure platform.  The IaaS/data center provider was able to provision a direct LAN connection to their platform, providing the required high speed, low latency connectivity.

Availability and flexibility of network and security utilities also need to be considered.  The capabilities of the IaaS providers firewall and load balancing services can be an important differentiators in whether or not they can support the application to be hosted.

Support for planned workloads
As with on-premises infrastructure deployments, basic due diligence needs to be done to verify that your version of operating system, application software, and database system is supported on a potential IaaS vendor’s platform.

Some providers have a relatively limited set of supported operating systems and application frameworks, or have other limitations that preclude them from running supporting application services.  Take the time to determine your full list of server requirements, and verify that each component is supported by your potential IaaS vendor.

Availability of desired PaaS and SaaS capabilities
Most of the IaaS vendors also offer extensive PaaS and SaaS features, including hosted database services, system monitoring from 3rd parties, data protection options, and more.  Especially for smaller IT organizations, these add-on services can be a key requirement that should be considered when selecting a provider.

Storage options and flexibility
Correctly identifying data storage needs and designing systems to match the requirements is frequently difficult for IT departments.  The larger IaaS providers offer a variety of storage solutions, including block, object, and long-term archiving/backup offerings.  Additional varieties of storage performance and data protection provide additional dimensions of sizing and features.

Determine storage requirements before selecting a  provider, both from a capacity and performance perspective.  Be sure to include additional feature requirements, such as storage snapshots and long term storage.

Lastly, consider how flexibly the storage allocation for a given workload can be expanded, and in what increments.  Some providers are more flexible than others in capacity expansion scenarios after the initial provisioning of compute and storage workloads.

Quality and availability of support
Like all IT systems, vendor/provider support is essential, to answer both “how do I do this” questions, and respond to break/fix incidents. Availability of provider documentation and best practices can be an indicator as to the longer term viability of the offering.

When possible, consult with other users of the provider, and ask them about their good and bad support experiences.

Got questions about cloud infrastructure providers?  Wondering about the fit of a specific XaaS provider for your environment and applications?  Contact us; we can help determine requirements, select vendors, and design an XaaS-based system.

Phone: 312-602-4000
222 W. Adams
Chicago, IL 60606
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