Cloud computing Tag

Selecting a Cloud Services Provider

The choice of a cloud provider can determine the success or failure of your project. When researching potential cloud providers it is critical to look behind brand and market share to be sure the services they deliver fit you needs for the time frame you need them. A great company may provide a great service, but it may not fit you needs today or it may not be able to adapt to your needs as they change. Here are a few thoughts to aid when evaluating cloud providers:

  1. Demonstrated expertise in the specific services you need – Look for a provider with deep knowledge and experience delivering the specific service you need. Some cloud providers are generalists and that may be OK if your needs are not specific, but if you are primarily looking to the cloud to deploy a specific application, them look for a provider with experience deploying and hosting that application. If you need a specific service like storage or disaster recovery, then look for a provider that specializes in those services. Ask prospective service providers for a list of engagements with your proposed project. Follow up by asking what worked well in each engagement and what needed improvement and find out what corrective actions were taken to improve for the future.
  2. Vendors need a vision that matches your needs and timeframe – Seek service providers with clear vision of where their service offerings are going. Do this by understanding their roadmap. Analyse how this roadmap matches your requirements and timeframes. Will the provider have the scale you need as your requirements grow? Will their features be competitive with those of other providers over time? Do they have the administrative features you need to scale, document and manager your cloud deployment? If you a looking for a long term partner, be sure they have a roadmap that not only meets you needs, but gives them the staying power for the future.
  3. Infrastructure Capabilities – Ask your prospective service providers about their infrastructure. Understand the SLA they provide and what they do to ensure they meet or exceed it. What do they do if they have a failure? Do they have multiple data centers? If your prpject will run 24/7, do the prospective vendors have the abilities to support your team 24/7? This information will allow you to determine if they can provide you the uptime your business needs.
  4. Global expertise. Cloud services go global quickly and easily. If you plan to need a global deployment, be sure to select a partner with international experience and presence. Can they support content distribution in Europe? Do they have infrastructure in the regions important to your business? Do they have people that can communicate effectively with your international offices?
  5. Cloud integration experience – Most cloud deployments need to integrate to other cloud based services. Be sure your potential vendor has experience doing web services integration with the various services you are planning to use. Do they have other customers leveraging those services now? Can they support your efforts to integrate your project with other services?
  6. Hire a company you trust and that is staffed with people you like – You are forging a long-term relationship with the provider and they will be responsible for a big part of your business. Be sure your team’s culture matches the culture at the provider. In the end, experience and reputation only go so far. Your project will not succeed unless you trust the team sitting across the table. Be sure to do business with companies that place your company’s success at the top of their list each day.

The importance of cloud services vendor selection is possibly the most critical choice you make in a a cloud deployment. The right choice will keep your service running to meet your needs today and in the future, but a poor choice will almost guarantee failure. We often think that cloud makes everything simple and easy, any business transformation effort requires the right experience and capabilities. Be sure your prospective vendor has the right ingredients and fit for your company’s needs.


When Shared Services Break Down

Shared services offer a number of wonderful benefits for small VARs and MSPs including low-cost, efficiency, breadth of support and 24/7 operation to name a few. These are great features when your business is growing and you are new to offering services. However as you grow, your needs may shift some and the shared services model becomes less attractive.  In fact, some of the items that are most attractive about the model when you are new to selling services are the very things that make shared services so unattractive as your services business matures.  We will be discussing some of the drawbacks of shared services for mature MSPs and ultimately some solutions in upcoming posts.

Today’s topic is the fixed processes imposed by the shared services model NOC

To manage the environments for many end customers spread out across a hundreds or thousands MSPs, shared services providers must unify all their processes. This means they have one way of doing things and that way applies to all their MSPs.  This approach allows them to spread out the work across a large team; allowing any team member to do work for any MSP, since all the processes are consistent. This is fine or even preferable when you are starting your services business because you have not yet developed your own processes and your customers are likely smaller and willing to adapt or even unaware of the underlying processes. As you grow your team becomes more sophisticated and you begin to attract larger and more demanding customers. At this point you may want to specify things like what days to perform patching or how escalate alerts. In a shared services model, your provider is unable to give you his flexibility. Many will even try, but the end result will not be good, because every time they do a patch or alert escalation for one of your customers, it ill be an exception for their team and an opportunity for an error. This becomes even more problematic when you need different processes for a few big customers.

Our next post will talk about the efficiency sea-saw and delivery consistency.



10 Tips for Cloud Partner Selection

Cloud computing is evolving rapidly with new options and providers and services appearing on the scene daily. Many are also disappearing. VARs and MSPs choosing to leverage a cloud provider to deliver a service to your customer, you need a consistent process and criteria to select the right cloud provider and evaluate them going forward.

Here are a few things to consider as you create your selection criteria:

Reputation: Look into the provider’s history, who are their customers? What problems have they had in the past and most importantly, how do they react when they have a problem? Do they list a number of  testimonials on their site? If so, perhaps you can actually interview one of those clients without a formal introduction from the provider.

Longevity: The industry is experiencing a major consolidation. OpSource, NaviSite and TerraMark were all recently acquired. Additionally, business models are rapidly changing. None of this is necessarily a bad thing and could even be a good thing for you and your customers.  The point to understand is, if you build a service around this provider and sell that service to your customers will this provider’s service be available to you on an on going basis. Be sure the provider has the staying power and the contract terms ensure you will have access to the service you need even if their business model changes.

Security: Your customers will always have questions about security. Be sure you understand the security policies and practices of the perspective service providers and make sure they meet any special requirements your customers may need. In general, the provider should be a member of the Cloud Security Alliance, be SAS70 Level II audited and ISO 27000 certified. Beyond that, look for specific certifications to meet the specialized needs of your customers.

Flexibility: Flexibility comes in two parts: technical/operational and contractual. On the technical side, does the provider’s environment provide you with sufficient flexibility to create and support the services you want to sell. Are they making use of the tool sets that your team understands and do they integrate with your internal systems? Contractually, you need to be sure you can consume the service as you need it and scale up and scale down as needed without financial penalties.

Pricing: Be sure to understand their pricing model and how it will effect your ability to offer a competitive service to your customers. It is also important how the perspective vendor changes the price. Consider how often and with what notice. Realize that if they can change your cost with little or no notice, you may not be able to do the same to your customers.

Data Recovery: Be sure to understand the vendor’s disaster recovery and business continuity plan. Ask how long your customers will be without their service if they vendor suffers a major disaster.

Data Export: Understand how you can export any of your customers’ data and move it to another vendor in case you decide to switch vendors or if the vendor goes out of business. Be sure to ask how long it will take to export your data and the format in which it will be provided. Understand any costs related to the data export.

Failover: Well designed cloud platforms have built-in failover. Question a perspective cloud vendor about how their system works and ask to see a demo. Be sure to understand how the provider deals with local and wide-area failures and make sure their capabilities meet the needs of your customers.

Green Tech: Everyone in interested to  know how their business impacts the environment.  You should know that just because your perspective vendor is a cloud provider does not mean they are green. Ask the vendor if they are a member of The Green Grid. Find out about their energy planning process and find out if they participate in a carbon offset program. This is all good to understand so you can answer questions from your customers and use the information in your marketing.

Test it: Create a test with some internal resources. See how the service works. Was the implementation as easy as advertised? Test the vendor’s support and service organizations. Once you are satisfied with the results, then begin moving customers onto the new service.  Proceed slowly, moving a small number of customers and ensuring everything is working before moving more. This will give your new vendor an opportunity to learn how to best work with you and for your team to learn how to best work with the new vendor.

Hopefully these tips will help you develop a successful relationship with a new cloud vendor and avoid potential problem vendors.


Era of MSPs

I think we are entering a trans-formative time. While the economy is not roaring ahead, it is recovering and businesses are feeling better about investing. In particular, SMBs are now ready to invest in their business and they view IT as a key leverage point to build efficiency to be more competitive in the future. The great news for MSPs is that most of these SMBs are also looking for new ways to solve the problems they have been living with for past few years. This means they are not just replacing the old Exchange server or backup application with a new one, but they now are open to new more efficient and cost effective solutions like Gmail or a cloud based data protection service. These services are typically have a low entry cost, excellent ROI and are fast to deliver value. MSPs that make themselves experts in these types of solutions and understand how to integrate them with their customers’ businesses will have a real unique advantage over the ones that don’t going forward.


Is the Cloud Falling?

A lot is being written about the risk of using the cloud for core services like email, CRM or backup. Invariably the argument goes like this, “Watch out, because the cloud service you are relying on could go down or suffer a data loss.” I am not sure this argument really puts the risks in perspective. While this is all true, I like to remind everyone that the cloud based services being offered by large reputable companies, like Google, Amazon and others are likely far more reliable that any service or application a typical company can deploy, host and maintain in their own infrastructure. So, in short, yes have a backup plan for your data, check you vendor’s SLA and have a plan for their planned and unplanned downtime, but at that point, feel good knowing you will probably be dealing with far fewer problems than you did with similar systems when you hosted them in your environment and ultimately your users will be far more productive.


The Importance of SLAs

In reading a post over on one of my favorite blogs, Talkin’ Cloud, I saw a discussion that caught my attention. The post itself is titled, Top 11 Questions MSPs Ask About Cloud Partner Programs, but the discussion touched on Service Level Agreements (SLA). In particular the seeming lack of importance customers give the actual SLA service provides give them.

In my experience at NetEnrich and at OpSource prior to that, our customers would spend a lot of time on the Master Service Agreement (MSA) with many conversations between their legal team and our legal team and give and take on a number of points. Naturally, these are important conversations to have, but in this negotiation process the SLA was typically given a cursory read and accepted.

As a commenter pointed out, one can argue that the ultimate SLA is customer satisfaction and a vendor with low customer satisfaction will loose their customers. While I agree with this premise, I believe customers who do not question the SLA, miss a great opportunity to get a better idea of how the service vendor will deliver on customer satisfaction. I recommend not only reading and fully understanding of a perspective vendor’s SLA to insure it meets your needs, but also to always ask the vendor a number of pointed questions about their SLA and how they operate in a number of possible incidents and then carefully gauge their responses. This is the best way for a customer to set their expectations of how the vendor will respond to incident prior to engaging. It will also help to expose areas to negotiate on the SLA along with possible areas where you may need to augment the service to maintain that ultimate SLA with your internal or external customers.

A few things to consider in an SLA:


  • Evaluate the promised response time based on the severity of the incident. Does this response time fit your needs, if not is there a way you can work with internal resources to deal with it?
  • Look at the teeth in the SLA. This is what happens if the vendor does not meet their commitment under the SLA. Many vendors have great standards in their SLA, but have little or no teeth in the event they fall short.
  • Understand how breaches need to be reported. Here you need to understand how long you have to report the breach and what process needs to be followed.
  • Look for  what we call the No Harm, No Foul SLA. In this SLA, if your team does not report the breach, it did not happen. In many cases this type of SLA works fine, however, if you are relying on the service to support a series customers, then this may not work as well because some of your customers may see problems you did not see and they may be too busy or frustrated to report it to you. In this setting, you may want an SLA where the vendor is required to report to you any and all breaches.
  • Lastly, be sure you can live with the performance level defined in the SLA. If you can, then you will probably be happy when your vendor out performs it.

Let us know you thoughts and please ask questions.