Organizations of all sizes now look to host some or all of their applications with cloud hosting providers and for good reason. Organizations may eliminate the upfront capital costs associated with technology purchases; the overhead associated with managing this technology over time; and, the hassles associated with scaling the infrastructure once it is in place. Yet organizations should not assume all cloud hosting providers are created equal. If anything, small and midsized enterprises (SMEs) may be particularly susceptible and even find themselves unnecessarily exposed to unexpected outages or extended periods of downtime if they do not carefully choose their cloud hosting provider.
Hosting applications with cloud providers is rapidly gaining momentum but it has particular appeal for SMEs who recognize their need to use technology to efficiently and effectively operate their business but are not technologists, per se. This makes them particularly apt to use cloud hosting providers since these providers can satisfy the technology requirements of many SMEs.
Yet the trap SMEs can easily fall is into is that just because a cloud hosting provider has a physical data center and can host their applications does not necessarily mean these cloud hosting provider is well-positioned to deliver the levels of services and expertise that SMEs may naively assume they possess. While there is no foolproof way to ensure a cloud hosting provider will offer all of the services and expertise to the level that an SME might need or natively expect, there are three questions that SMEs can and should ask to choose the right cloud hosting provider to host their applications.
1. How does the cloud hosting provider implement change control?
Change control is instrumental to successfully running a data center of any size. In essence, it requires creating a check list of tasks that must be completed as well as individuals internally and externally that should be notified and even sign off before a change actually occurs. While this process may sound like routine practice, IT organizations can be lax in implementing and adhering to such procedures. Even if they do exist, these processes are, too often, informal or poorly documented.
These problems do not automatically disappear when one selects a cloud hosting provider. Their1 IT staff do not suddenly and magically obtain the necessary skills and discipline to effectively manage the cloud hosting provider’s data center just because they work for a “cloud hosting provider.”
Verifying the provider has change control processes in place that are documented and strictly adhered should be viewed as almost a prerequisite prior to hosting one’s applications with a cloud hosting provider.
2. How does the cloud hosting provider host and manage application workloads from different customers?
One of the great benefits of using a cloud hosting provider is that rather than having to build your own data center and buy your own computer hardware and software, you can be part of a group that collectively accesses, shares and better utilizes the infrastructure that the cloud hosting provider owns at a lower cost than what you can do by yourself.
However the trick is that the cloud hosting provider must be able to effectively manage application workloads from different organizations. These workloads must be serviced in a way that meet the expectations of all of the organizations accessing and using that same piece of hardware. Should one organization’s workloads start to consume and negatively impact the applications of the other organizations also hosted on that computer hardware, how does the cloud hosting provider initially detect and then mitigate the situation to everyone’s satisfaction?
If the cloud hosting provider cannot satisfactorily answer that question, be wary about hosting your applications with that provider.
3. How long does it take you to recover my application(s) from an outage?
Organizations did not want to think about backing up and recovering their applications when they hosted them in-house. Now that they host them with a cloud provider, many would prefer to stop thinking about backup and recovery altogether. If so, that would be a mistake.
I had a conversation just this last week with a cloud hosting provider who told me a competitor use Carbonite, an online cloud-base backup service, to backup their clients’ applications. While there is certainly nothing wrong with Carbonite, per se, the issue becomes the time it takes to recover their applications should an outage occur. In this case, this provider was aware of an outage that affected some of his competitor’s clients. It took them a week or more to first pull back their data from the Carbonite cloud and then to restore their applications.
In short, verify that the cloud hosting provider has a means to keep some recent backups onsite. Ideally they will keep recent backups/copies of data on site for at least the last 24 hours and ideally 7-30 days. While there is nothing fundamentally wrong with backing up to the cloud, quickly recovering from it is a much different proposition. As such, organizations should know up front how quickly they need to recover their applications and verify that the cloud hosting provider has a solution in place to deliver on those expectations.