Launching a tech startup in 2016? It’s pretty much a given that you’ll turn to the cloud for your IT infrastructure. Unless you have very specific requirements or access to a serious amount of capital, you’re not going to give a second thought to on-premises IT or dedicated server hosting – a pay-as-you-go IaaS cloud hosting solution will work out faster, cheaper, more flexible and easier to use.
What’s more, if you’re at all like your peers, you’re going to look towards some of the bigger providers on the market – AWS, Google, Microsoft – for what you need. According to some reports, Amazon in particular has the startup IaaS market pretty well tied up – over two-thirds of the UK’s highest-valued startups use AWS, according to its own estimate, including the likes of JustEat and Shazam. To a cloud hosting newcomer, it can seem like the obvious go-to option.
(Find out more about cloud hosting for SMEs and startups in our free guide.)
But is AWS right for your cloud startup? In reality, the answer may be more complicated than you think.
Keeping your cloud hosting simple
Search online for other startups’ opinions on AWS, and you’ll soon find there’s not much in the way of consensus on its suitability. In fact, the opposite is true – for every person who claims it’s the only sensible option, there’s another who couldn’t be less enthused with the service.
This is partly because AWS is complex, and that complexity can be extremely divisive. Amazon offers more than 70 services under the AWS umbrella, allowing for almost any possible cloud configuration under the sun (it even announced a VMWare solution in October), and the number is growing all the time. To some users, this is empowering – but to others, it makes AWS inscrutable.
We shouldn’t underestimate the affect this can have on the service’s usability. If your startup’s staff have a high level of technical skill, that’s great – AWS may be right for you. If your business is more entrepreneur-led, and you don’t have access to an AWS specialist, you may find it more difficult to bend Amazon’s cloud hosting service to your will.
Given how the cloud has been hailed for levelling the field for startups, it’s not entirely unreasonable to see this skill barrier as something as a black mark against AWS.
Should you use a smaller IaaS provider?
By contrast, the simplicity of a smaller IaaS provider can be a major asset for a startup. While said outfits won’t offer the same bells and whistles as AWS, there’s less for users to worry about on the self-service front, and – most of the time – easier access to more tailored support.
With the very largest providers, for example, how realistic are your chances of being able to pick up the phone and discuss the ins and outs of your configuration at a moment’s notice? Sometimes it can be a real advantage to have these conversations with a technician who's familiar with you and your business – something more likely with a smaller provider.
It may even work out cheaper in the long-run, too. Working with a company the size of Amazon won’t give you much room to negotiate on your contract terms or fee – AWS tends to be somewhat one-size-fits-all, even with its startup-oriented service tiers. A smaller IaaS provider will tend to be more flexible and personal from day one, and – if you work with a local outfit – may offer services developed with your local business community in mind.
These are, of course, just a couple of reasons to think twice about going straight to a big-three cloud provider as opposed to a smaller one. The cloud market is in a constant state of flux, so the relative advantages and disadvantages of one option over another could change overnight. A great example of this is data centre location – companies have often been warned in the past that most public cloud providers don’t give users control over where their data lives, but now both AWS and Microsoft have opened – or plan to open – their own data centres in the UK.
Still, we should recognise that not all of a business cloud sourcing decisions should be based on specifications and services. Simplicity and support matter, too.