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Off-the-Shelf Cloud Solutions: Better Left on the Shelf

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July 1, 2014
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It goes without saying. No two companies are alike; nor are their IT infrastructure needs. Each has distinct business requirements, customer demands, industry drivers, budget parameters, strategic objectives and more.  So when it comes to moving applications and data to the cloud, why would anyone think a one-size-fits-all solution would be effective?

A look at all the off-the-shelf cloud solutions on the market indicates that plenty of cloud service providers (CSPs) seem to think they work just fine. Unfortunately for the organizations that use them, that’s often not the case.

Here’s why and what you need to consider.

You are One-of-a-Kind

Your organization has unique goals. Maybe cost reduction is a major driver.  You also may need more performance and high availability to accommodate production workloads in addition to your development and testing applications. Yet there are some applications that, for various reasons, you need to keep in-house.  Plus, your resource usage often fluctuates making scalability essential.

On top of it all, your company is subject to regulatory rules that require you to employ certain security protocols to protect your data. And maybe those rules are specific to the industry you’re in, like healthcare or financial services.

What are the chances of finding a standard solution that can meet all of your criteria? Even if you do find such a solution, how will you know if you are making efficient use of your cloud resources? What if your needs change?  Can a one-size-fits-all solution readily accommodate you?

The Good, Bad and Ineffective

There are a lot of things about standard solutions that make it easy to overlook their disadvantages. Many offer a low price of entry. Who doesn’t want to save money right from the start?  Some also make it easy to get started. Just sign up for an account online, start spinning up servers and pay only for what you use.

So it may be tempting to overlook some of the downsides to standard offerings ─ like the fact that they may not be structured to accommodate production workloads.  Or they don’t offer the geo-diversity and redundancies you require. But those downsides eventually catch up with you and will likely overshadow any previously enjoyed benefits.  Depending on the contractual arrangement, there’s also a good chance you could be stuck with a solution that quickly becomes ineffective.

Tailored for a Better Fit

To fully appreciate what the cloud can do and to meet your organization’s specific requirements, you want a cloud solution that is tailored to your needs.

How do you find one?  It starts with selecting a cloud service provider (CSP) that employs a consultative approach.  Look for CSPs that does more than offer “cloud 1,” “cloud 2” and “cloud 3” on their web sites.

You want to work with a CSP that will ask you questions about your current and future needs, your goals, your pain points, your budget parameters and more.  The CSP should also LISTEN to what you have to say.  There’s an unfortunate tendency for some CSPs to ask all the right questions but then supply their own answers to make selling their off-the-shelf solutions easier.

You want a CSP that will take the information it gathers and then craft a solution ─ or solutions ─ that can best meet your needs.  The CSP should be able to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the options provided, make recommendations for accommodating future needs and help you consider issues you may not have thought of before.  Do you need the flexibility to rapidly scale when business increases? Are you serving customers in other countries that might require special attention to their data privacy needs?  Do you have a disaster recovery plan in place? What are your recovery point objectives and recovery time objectives?  What about the needs of your end users?

In addition, look for CSPs that keep the consultation going even after you’ve signed on the dotted line.  Will they offer rightsizing recommendations to help you optimize resource usage? Will they work with you to address emerging, often urgent needs? You want to work with a CSP that is with you today ─ and tomorrow.

Compliance and Industry Matters

A CSP that has an understanding of your industry and any compliance requirements is a plus.  If regulatory rules are concern, make sure that any CSP you consider regularly undergoes independent audits by third-party assessors.  Those that have a solid compliance program in place should be willing to share with you relevant reports such as SSAE 16, SOC 1, SOC 2 and SOC 3.  Those that also make the investment in HIPAA and PCI DSS audits demonstrate an even greater understanding of specific industry demands and likely have stronger security protocols and processes in place.

Get What You Want

Some companies look at the cloud as an eventual replacement for their existing IT infrastructure. These are mostly startups with little or no existing investment in compute capacity. However, most companies ─ yours is likely among them ─ are looking to the cloud to meet specific needs and to fill out a portfolio of compute capacity that may include internal servers, private clouds and dedicated hosting.  So think about what you really need.  Your company is one of a kind; your cloud solution should be too.

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About Peak 10

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Board Member, Peak 10 + ViaWest