The common understanding of what the moniker “Private Cloud” means today is a dedicated high availability compute cluster, with dedicated storage, networking, and security appliances. Different cloud providers may construct these with various virtualization platforms and hardware, as well as offer versions that provide savings through selective shared-use multi-tenant line items, but the end result is the same: dedicated access to infrastructure that should not be impacted by any other client or organization that the providers deliver services to.
There are literally hundreds of private cloud providers across the US that deliver their environments via physical infrastructure in very similar ways. That does not mean that clients will have the same experience with all of them, however. There are factors beyond how providers deploy environments that can drastically affect the way services are delivered. Here are a couple items worth discussing if you are outsourcing for the first time or migrating between providers:
Technology and Innovation Roadmap
The generally accepted standard of private cloud design has been around long enough to have the most successful providers come to a fairly standard design for the best economy of scale, uptime, and efficiency of management. This is a key identifying factor of commoditization of any service and many providers are in an aggressive state of re-invention to maintain a unique value proposition to their end users because of how this impacts their business. If they cannot compete with a unique service, the only way to compete is on price and people and that is a race to the bottom that boutique providers cannot afford to play. Not all cloud providers are equipped to adapt fast enough to the swings of technology to stay relevant. Others are pushing the limits and continually adding services that help “future proof” them. Making sure to partner with an organization that has the agility to meet your evolving needs helps eliminate the pain of future unplanned migrations or misalignment of services.
Company Financial Strategy
Is the service provider you are engaging with in it for the long haul or for a quick sale? This will often dictate whether strong investments are made in the innovation and technology side of the business, or if maximizing operational efficiencies and ensuring the business is packaged well for easier M&A are the focus. Both can obviously take place at the same time, but it is still a good thing to question to ensure understanding. Making sure the provider’s short and long term financial goals align with your business strategy is important to a successful partnership.
A provider can be in business for many years, but this does not guarantee that they have a mature operating model for delivering their services, or are equipped to deliver the level of service you may require. Does the provider have any IT Service Management best practices frameworks implemented? ITIL is the defacto standard for ITSM in the US, but there are other options as well (COBIT, ISO 20000, USMBOK, etc.). The specific framework that the provider subscribes to is less important than the fact that they have implemented measurable controls and governance to ensure consistent service delivery. Properly implemented, ITSM frameworks provide efficiency in service delivery that result in better end user and client experience.
Security Best Practices
There are many providers that deliver all sorts of secured environment services for every type of compliance. The catch is knowing *how much* of the compliance burden they are carrying. A deeper dive into deployment methodologies and practices can reveal quite different approaches from provider to provider. Some providers have a strong commitment to delivering environments that exceed standards, and are built to adapt as compliance evolves and newer versions of standards are released. The best providers from a security perspective function as trusted advisors in the compliance spaces they provide services in, helping with design of architecture, access control, and security of data. These often come at a cost premium, so it is important to align with a provider that fits your particular business model.
You may find this surprising, but most companies looking for a managed infrastructure provider spend a tremendous amount of time, resources, and money doing due diligence and forget to research this: The quantity of workload compared to the number of individuals that are supporting it. If several cloud providers you are considering have absolutely everything else buttoned down and align well with your company strategy, the level of support you can expect now becomes a math problem. How many customers or total number of instances as an aggregate are under management vs the number of engineers that are supporting them. There can be a surprising variance from provider to provider here as well. The provider with the lowest ratio isn’t necessarily the best selection however, as it can cost more for a higher grade of end user support and white glove service. The good news is that you can determine what the right level for your organization is on the sliding scale, as the ITSM standards the provider has implemented should document what sort of response times you should expect.
Working with cloud providers is much more complex than shipping them an inventory list and getting a quote back. Asking details around subjects like the ones above will provide much more clarity into the companies that you are about to trust the welfare of your business with. Whether looking for new services or getting a better understanding of who you are already working with today, these conversations will build additional trust into your relationship with them and/or demonstrate where things need to change or improve and make you a more educated buyer.
If you want to go into more depth with any of the above or just have a casual about the industry in general, I am always up for a good conversation so please reach out!
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