For managed IT service providers, the rise of cloud hosting has had big implications. Where firms used to rely on on-premises infrastructure or colocation to deliver their services to end users, they now have the opportunity to switch to more efficient and flexible cloud solutions from third parties – improving margins, reducing resource consumption and even reinventing themselves as more strategic partners to their customers’ businesses.
Underpinning this trend is IaaS, which is growing at a faster rate than any other family of cloud solution, according to Gartner – the research firm projects worldwide sales growth of 37% for IaaS through 2017, compared to 20% for the SaaS market.
The trouble is, IaaS is a crowded and commoditised market – so how can IT service providers choose the right cloud hosting supplier for their business model?
To some extent, this will be defined by customer need. If your customers need their data and applications to live in the UK, for example, that limits your options when it comes to IaaS. Similar restrictions will apply around compliance with standards like PCI DSS, pre-existing availability agreements, and so on.
However, some of the cloud hosting must-haves for IT service providers are less obvious. Here are five examples.
1. Exceptional protection against downtime
Most IT service providers will be aware of how damaging downtime can be. Unplanned outages can have a major impact on customer trust, not to mention incur significant costs as staff struggle to fix the problem.
As we’ve explored elsewhere, getting a good understanding of a cloud hosting supplier’s protection against downtime takes more than a quick look at the number of nines in the SLA or the Tier classification of their data centres. A lot of the basic wider infrastructure considerations that you’re accustomed to in the physical world apply to the virtual arena.
So, as you may well have done if you carried out due diligence on a colocation facility for your physical hardware, it’s worth looking at their full range of redundancy measures, examining their provisions for business continuity and even probing them for evidence of how well they manage their facilities.
2. Flexible connectivity options
Poor performance is also a killer for IT service providers, and switching from an on-premises or local colocation data centre to an unproven cloud solution provider can be a good way to slow your customers’ connections to a standstill. As such, it’s vital that you look for high-capacity, diverse connectivity to and from your cloud hosting supplier’s data centres.
3. Flexibility on price
One of the most commonly cited benefits of the cloud is pay-as-you-go pricing, but a true pay-as-you-go model isn’t necessarily the best option for many would-be users. If your customers have predictable consumption patterns month on month, it’s often more cost-effective to ring-fence a fixed pool of resources rather than pay for flexibility you don’t need – so check your supplier can advise on – and then implement – a pricing model that makes sense for your client base.
4. Versatile cloud management tools
Moving to cloud hosting allows IT service providers to spend less time in the data centre and more time on delivering value-added services, but that’s not to say there’s zero management overhead with IaaS.
When you choose a cloud hosting supplier, it’s vital to ensure their cloud management tools strike the right balance between ease-of-use and versatility – go too far one way or the other, and you may find your team is unable to deliver what you promised to the customer at all.
5. A provider that’s here to stay
Finally, there’s a degree of trust required when you make the move from on-premises infrastructure or colocation to the cloud – you need to have confidence that your supplier won’t vanish overnight, and take your customers’ applications and data with it. Dramatic as it sounds, this is a genuine risk in the commoditised IaaS market and one that requires careful consideration.
IT service providers should look for assurances that a provisional cloud hosting partner is running a credible and sustainable business, is financially stable, and won’t change service levels overnight.