Over the past decade, the concept of ‘cloud’ has promised some clear and attractive benefits. However, such cloud ‘promises’ are often diluted down because the final cloud solution received is too inflexible or lacks power. There are some great solutions in both the ‘simple clouds’ (mostly for consumer applications) and the ‘mega clouds’ (for enterprise level needs), but the mid-market cloud (for SMBs and smaller-scale developers) is often the most under served.

When buying cloud servers, one should consider how solutions are matching up to every one of these cloud promises – lower TCO, more power, ease of use, more reliability, greater flexibility, increased transparency, no vendor lock in, and long term support from a vendor.  When selecting a cloud platform, the conclusion should be based on the resultant overall cloud experience.

Firstly, it is important to research the right cloud provider for your needs. Understanding the origin of cloud providers and the role their historical experience plays in supporting your goals is the key to a successful cloud strategy. Cloud providers have typically evolved from three distinct areas; these are Value-add Resellers (VARs), ISPs and Web Hosts. Each type of provider has brought with them vast but widely different experience as they have moved into the ‘cloud market’.

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For example, many VARs evolved into a cloud provider by partnering with a hosting infrastructure provider and offering customers a suite of bespoke cloud services. By combining infrastructure and applications they can be attractive for small businesses with a lack of skills in-house. However, for small scale users, the higher prices of VARs can often be a disadvantage.

many VARs evolved into a cloud provider by partnering with a hosting infrastructure provider

ISPs have been able to invest in and acquire cloud technology at a rapid pace, however achieving automation and efficiency is very challenging. ISPs can also face challenges delivering ever-changing levels of high speed connectivity and infrastructure while keeping costs affordable. This can mean that investing in cloud services is not always the priority for them and cloud customers could perhaps suffer.

ISPs have been able to invest in and acquire cloud technology at a rapid pace

Alternatively, a web host’s knowledge and skills originate from the shared web hosting market. These companies have invested heavily in infrastructure, not just enabling automation, resource management and fast provisioning but considering them central to their solutions – meaning a focus on delivering on agility, power and price – ideal for cloud server users.

a web host’s knowledge and skills originate from the shared web hosting market

When researching individual cloud solutions, it is important to understand how the platform has been born. Has it been re-engineered over years from older legacy systems or has it been redesigned in recent years to reflect the best possible server technology? Look for a provider that reviews its solution in terms of overall cloud-usability – you seek a server that delivers the most on cloud promises.

It is important to understand the capabilities today and future of a specific cloud platform. Begin by researching the components of the stack – what server hardware is used? What type of virtualisation? Is XEN or a premium option such as VMware used? Look for indications from a vendor that a ‘premium partner’ strategy has been adopted in order to deliver to you the latest innovations or those with the best possible results. 

For example, storage technology is an area that can make an enormous difference to day to day performance.  Newer cloud solutions will use pure SSD rather than spinning disk, which costs a provider more but is lightning quick, as it provides real time deduplication and compression. A cloud user should experience virtually unlimited disk performance as a result. SSD is also a rapidly evolving area of tech so is likely to progress to become even better. Look for benchmarking studies from third party sources around areas like this – the cloud providers with the best price-performance ratio will want to shout about it. 

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Similarly, with elements such as firewalling, load balancing and intrusion protection, look for premium suppliers and whether versions are up to date. Cloud providers that are investing in the best component parts for networking, computing, storage and web interface, for the long term, will be more committed to optimising your cloud journey. Ask about how their cloud offering is planned to develop in the future – the best platforms will have a continuous roll out of new functionalities.

Deployment time, billing transparency and ease of use are also areas that will affect your overall success with a cloud platform. For example, the ability to leverage multiple machines for short periods and with charges by the minute will enable the scalability promise of cloud to become reality. It is essential that any cloud solution allows you to grow upwards and downwards in real terms as your needs change.

As well as fitting your budget, prioritise the providers that show strength with speed, security and levels of guaranteed uptime, proof of their technical competency. Ensure they are investing in strategic partnerships that you will benefit from in everyday performance terms, and that they use cutting edge components and networking. Expect signs of innovation in their cloud packages and plans for continual evolvement that will drive real efficiencies for you in the future.