How to Evaluate Cloud Computing Providers

Jason Baker is the chief technical officer for ReliaCloud, a channel-focused cloud computing provider. Baker has more than 14 years of experience working with Internet and telecommunications organizations in Minnesota.


Enterprises looking to outsource infrastructure to cloud computing providers face a bewildering number of choices today. New cloud providers are popping up every month and many traditional service providers are rebranding services as cloud hosting. So how does your enterprise evaluate and select the right cloud platform?

First off, as most Data Center Knowledge readers may know, Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) cloud platforms are a viable alternative to traditional server and storage infrastructure. And while this article will focus on IaaS, many of my points are relevant for Platform-as-a-Service (Paas) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) clouds, too.

Price Tag
The primary driver behind most businesses moving to the cloud is to save money. Almost all cloud providers offer a utility-based pricing model where you can use the resources you need and then simply pay for the resources that you use. Generally, customers are paying for resources on an hourly or monthly basis. When comparing cloud providers, you need to be aware of three different pricing dimensions: computing, storage and bandwidth. While one cloud provider might offer cheap computing or storage resources they may make up for it by charging an arm-and-a-leg for bandwidth. Also, businesses should be aware of higher costs from some cloud providers that offer storage intensive applications.

Cloud providers deliver different application performance results based on geographic location and cloud platform architecture. Find out where the cloud provider that you’re evaluating is located. You should expect a cloud provider in your region to offer lower latency Internet access to your applications. Some cloud providers may allow you to host your applications in one or more geographic locations. That may be especially important for business continuity purposes, or if your applications are being accessed by a global user base.

Most cloud providers can offer computing resources of varying sizes — from the smallest single-core instances to the largest multi-core mammoth-memory instances. What’s not so clear, however, is that storage IO can really vary from one cloud provider to another. And storage IO, not CPU, is often times the key determinant in your application excelling or performing poorly in the cloud.

Security & Assurance
Your future cloud provider might host your data in a SAS70 Type II data center facility, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that provider has any safeguards in place to protect your data. You may need to roll your own security infrastructure to firewall off your applications or encrypt your data. You also might want to find out where the cloud provider is storing your data — especially if your organization is subject to any regional regulations. Some cloud providers now offer more traditional firewall security options as part of their cloud platform.

Service Level Agreements
A service level agreement (SLA) is one way to gauge a cloud provider’s comfort level with its service delivery platform. If one cloud provider offers 99.5 percent computing availability and another offers 100 percent, it’s a good bet the latter is a better fit for mission-critical applications. But make sure your provider’s SLA has some teeth to it. In the unlikely event of a service outage, the cloud provider should offer you generous service credits in return.

At this point in the game, cloud providers aren’t known to offer great support, but that is starting to change. The early cloud adopters have generally been software developers and other techies that don’t need much hand-holding. Today, enterprise officers need to know they can contact someone at their cloud provider when they experience problems. Some cloud providers bundle in support services while others offer various support tiers.

The current utility nature of cloud platforms means that it is easier than ever to provision and test infrastructure in the cloud. You can easily spin up infrastructure at multiple cloud providers to test your applications and see if your service requirements are met. Chances are you will find the right cloud for your organization.

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  1. Great Post. There are a ton of cloud hosting providers out there... finding the best one out there will be key to getting affordable but GOOD hosting.

  2. Jason, hi. Good points for early discussions but complexity, legal issues, etc. are also essential considerations, IMHO. Regards Imran

  3. Raj

    Hi, Ref this risk matrix, guidelines published by ENISA. Regards, Raj

  4. CloudNinja

    Great points and topics to begin the conversation and as Imran mentions - complexity is where one needs to be careful. Pricing for example, can be a BIG gotcha if you do not delve into the details - there may be a need for addtional services, 3rd party vendors or if you change any aspect of your contract that can bite you. I found 2 great discussions that provide addtional points to know & assess BEFORE you goto the Cloud [regardless of who is providing the cloud i.e. Amazon, SalesForce, Windows Azure]: 1) "Bridging the Gap from On-Premises to the Cloud” by Yousef Khalidi: PPT - Video - t2) alk with David Chappell on this topic where he covers others issues such as: - IaaS vs PaaS - Private vs Public Cloud - Applications that are not a great fit for the Cloud and those which are. - The threat of Public Cloud to IT departments see: thoughts? hope that helps, -cn

  5. AG

    Hi, Can you suggest me a good consultancy/OEM firm who can help me rollout my own data centre on cloud?? Budget not a big issues!! Tx AG

  6. Cloud servers can be evaluated through its hardware performance, application reliability, accuracy and speed, and network performance after increasing the number of instances created.

  7. Nice article for covering five major areas. I would like to add a service usability and comparability with customers' existing data center or IT infrastructure.

  8. Agustín

    Hi Jason. Many thanks for your useful hints! I'd need some clearance relating latency and the presence of the provider on different regions for a game-like application. Intuition says [...] You should expect a cloud provider in your region to offer lower latency Internet access to your applications. [...] but any article or study taking this into account would be very appreciated. Do you know any? Thanks in advance.-

  9. These are excellent points. I would also add to the list: compatibility with other cloud platforms and being open to migration when needed. What I'm trying to say is choose a cloud provider that uses an "open cloud" approach to avoid vendor lock-in. I wrote post on it here: