A guide to IaaS provider selection

Adding a cloud infrastructure service requires proper evaluation procedures and research. For a smooth transition, assess VM shapes, developer skill sets, licensing and security.

The evaluation and selection process for an infrastructure as a service provider requires collaboration, budgeting and futureproofing of resources. To guarantee the provider suits an organization's needs, both buying managers and IT administrators must research enterprise application support, licensing costs, developer skill sets and provider security.

To start the evaluation process, IT admins can research virtual machine shapes. These configurations of processors and memory resources don't always match existing enterprise apps, which can affect overall ecosystem performance. It is also important to consider the skill sets developers and IT personnel require for a cloud migration project.

Each IaaS provider has its own unique catalog of VM shape offerings. Companies should shortlist IaaS providers with shapes that cover 90% of the configurations that are comparable to existing on-premises workloads with compatible versions of the OSes, said Philip Brown, head of Oracle cloud services at DSP, a U.K.-based cloud consultancy. This makes any move to the cloud easier.

"While most clouds will allow you to upload your own OSes to run virtual machines, you really want to look at what the public cloud provider offers in terms of core OSes, as they are the ones who will automatically provide newly patched versions," Brown said.

Look for hidden costs

It's tempting to focus on an IaaS offering's raw compute costs, but other costs often exceed computing fees and end up being a bigger differentiator across clouds, said Tom Kiblin, vice president of cloud and managed services at ServerCentral Turing Group, a cloud consultancy. 

Extra costs include data transfer fees, get/put requests on data and processor requests. Purchasing managers must understand every single aspect of the service-level agreement and know what they will be charged for and how much they'll be charged.

"Every week we are contacted by someone who has a four- or five-figure 'surprise' in their IaaS bill because they didn't understand the data access or transfer costs, or some other hidden element," Kiblin said.

Proper architecture for licenses

Internal IT staff often focus on resource utilization when they design their ideal data center architecture. This involves ensuring there is enough capacity to run applications smoothly with some overhead for growth, but not too much so the organization doesn't pay for unused resources. But licensing fees, which are essential to accessing IaaS resources, can sometimes exceed compute costs.

To help control the budget, choose an IaaS provider that supports the architecture design process to guarantee that the resources and environment are designed to optimize the spend of licenses , said Dan Beers, vice president of colocation business services at INAP, a cloud and data center solutions provider.

Breadth of services

Both managers and admins should evaluate the level, number and depth of IaaS offerings before making a decision. "IaaS service providers should support customer enablement for innovation, including DevOps enablement for IT operations," said Bill Saltys, senior vice president of alliances at Apps Associates, a cloud consultancy.

Service quality and an IaaS provider's alignment with development and IT goals can help an organization drive down IT spending on operations and maintenance. It can also help shift focus to innovation and digital transformation, which is important for companies that want to stay competitive, Saltys said. 

Development teams should vet the APIs to access these services, which are crucial for the deployment and operation of IaaS workloads, said Sean Feeney, cloud engineering practice director at Nerdery, an IT consulting service. A good API set makes it easy to script or orchestrate every available action on the IaaS' GUI.

Alignment with internal skills

An organization's developers and IT personnel need a solid understanding of the IaaS provider's portfolio in order to take advantage of benefits such as scalability and cost reduction, said Feeney.

If IT admins are hesitant to learn new technologies, some providers such as AWS allow customers to continue using VMware -- at a cost.

IT managers want to consider their team's ability to secure IaaS workloads. If their team is unsure of what safeguards to put into place, the organization should consider working with an experienced consultancy before going live.

Audit provider security

It's crucial that IaaS providers have an independent certification for enterprise-level infrastructure security and compliance. Organizations -- and purchasing managers -- should clearly understand of the scope of security and governance from the IaaS provider to ensure nothing slips through the cracks and everything remains secure, said Saltys.

As an extra measure, IT managers should check that the IaaS data center is vendor-owned and operated rather than being owned by a third party.

Having an IaaS provider with a global presence and a large network of data centers helps decrease latency and mitigates risk. To ensure uptime, confirm the number of data centers available, the duration of operation and size of the centers.

"While this may seem like an obvious step, it can be overlooked and is important when it comes to the safety and security of your company's data," Saltys said.

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