Finding the difference in cloud suppliers

The Cloud industry is continuing to expand rapidly, with new technologies and solutions being showcased, seemingly, every month. What did strike me as interesting was the uniformity of suppliers. They’re pushing out the same message to potential customers and it is becoming increasingly difficult, even for fellow providers, to work out exactly what services companies were offering.

In an industry becoming saturated with the same marketing message, how is a customer expected to break through the noise and identify a quality hosting provider? This got me thinking and in my opinion, analysing two key areas of experience and investment will put your business in a strong position to do so.

Investment, both in terms of technology and financial contributions must be considered as a whole. More providers are now telling customers that they are offering a “full service”, while not disclosing how they are actually achieving this. The first question one should ask is “what lies beneath?” how is the service you are looking to buy actually being delivered? Everyone has a glossy storefront, but back stage all things are not equal.

Are you dealing directly with the Cloud provider or is your supplier a reseller? With automated self-service portals being increasingly white labelled, everyone is a Cloud provider. This is not a problem it its own right, but it does add an extra layer to the service you are purchasing, meaning you need to check your provider’s suppliers too.

You really need to find out what hardware the provider is running on.  To create a basic hosting environment you only need a PC, some free virtualisation software and an Internet connection, and until things start to go wrong you will be blissfully unaware of your situation.  A quality hosting provider will be using enterprise hardware, with resilient components.

For example, a provider can either buy a 120 GB solid state drive (SSD) for £80 or an enterprise grade version for £1000. The difference being that the enterprise drive is designed to last longer under an intense workload, where a consumer drive is not and could fail every six months causing potential service outages.  When extending this concept to two servers costing £500 and one costing £6000, it’s not hard to appreciate the difference.

How is the supplier operating the platform? Do you have to compete with other users for resources?  How does the platform deal with that contention? Different platforms handle this better than others and as many home broadband providers will notice, services can be slow during school holidays. Fine, but can you afford for your applications to be slow due to similar events occurring which are out of your control? I have heard of instances where providers are contending memory by 4-8 times on a server. It is vital to make sure you get some performance guarantees from your supplier.

Where is your supplier hosting the service, in a data centre or in their bedroom? I once met a man who was hosting a Lotus Notes solution in his cellar at home over 6 ADSL circuits and was complaining about the rain. If you cannot see the platform, find out where it is. Finding out what Tier classification the data centre is should also give you a guide to its suitability. I would suggest that Tier 3 or 4 should be a target, tier 4 being the best but still fairly uncommon in the UK. (Ed:  …strictly speaking a Tier 4 classification required armed guards!)

Is their data centre based in the UK or internationally? Location can have implications for both privacy and internet performance. Did you know that if your data is affiliated with an American company it instantly falls under the US patriot act, which means the American government can view the information, without your permission?  As for bandwidth, it is a long way to America, therefore your service using the native internet from the UK will be slower.  I ran a few tests using a broadband speed check.  The results on our fibre broadband connection were as follows:

    Ping Download Upload
Leeds London 15 33 8
Leeds Dublin 29 33 7
Leeds San Francisco 157 22 6
Leeds LA 172 15 4

However, this does vary depending on your broadband provider and the time of day.
Originally published on Compare the Cloud 15 Febuary 2013 by Richard May.

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