Selecting Public Cloud Services – Focus on What’s Different

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I had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion last week with a few of my PwC colleagues, Cara Beston and Greg Dupier, during which we talked about both private clouds and also what it takes for businesses to offer public cloud services.  What made this discussion unique for me was that the audience was largely made up of U.S. government contractors, so they were particularly focused on the federal direction and mandates about cloud. Luckily, Greg is a specialist in this area having both helped to shape the government’s cloud direction and assisted some cloud providers in designing their government-targeted offerings.

One concept I learned about unique to the government is the idea of a “community” cloud.  This is the idea that several cooperating organizations can share cloud resources to get some of the economies of scale while still maintaining a level of privacy and security among the small group – sort of an invitation-only public cloud. This seems to make a lot of sense in the government space as they are applying the same security and access specifications and aren’t competitive. I’m not sure if the same concept applies to a group of insurance carriers, for example, but it may help get the ball rolling for some industry specific cloud apps.

Selecting Cloud Services

Someone in the audience asked the panel about the important considerations when evaluating and selecting public cloud services. Because of its newness, it would be easy to try and build a brand new evaluation and selection process.  But we have all spent our IT careers working with vendors and 3rd party solutions, so I think a better approach is to keep most of those fundamental approaches and lessons when we approach the cloud.  Instead, why not focus on what’s different to augment our traditional vendor evaluation and selection?  Here are three things that are different to get the discussion started.

1. The Financial Model

Pay-as-you-go pricing in which you only pay for what you use is a key benefit of the public cloud model. How each vendor implements it is an important and new consideration when evaluating cloud services. One vendor I know is offering pricing based on tiers of users. For example, 0-20 users pay $X, 21-50 users pay $Y, etc.  These and other approaches can invalidate financial assumptions you have made. Another possible wrench in assumptions is what constitutes non-standard use of the service and are there additional fees.

2. The Change Management Process

A second unique feature of the public cloud model is that the vendor assumes the responsibility for software maintenance and release schedules. Make sure you clearly understand how frequently releases will be scheduled and how much lead time you will get.  This is especially important if you plan to create custom extensions and interfaces so that you can plan and execute regression testing.

3. Operational Transparency

In order to effectively handle your end-user’s needs, you need to know what’s going on in your application and infrastructure environments.  The public cloud, in theory, takes much of that out of your hands.  One of the important operational questions is how much visibility will your provider give you into the status of the cloud environment – which users are active, performance and throughput details, SLA reporting, etc?

These are just a few things that are different with public cloud services arrangements.  How are you approaching it?

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