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The Importance of Considering Your Technical Style as you Select Cloud Providers

November 23, 2015 No Comments

Featured article by Rens Troost, President, Virtual Clarity

Public discourse on “the cloud” may give the impression that it is some kind of ethereal vapor penetrating the far reaches and cyberspace. Reality is much less exotic, as Alan Nance, Executive Vice President at Virtual Clarity explained: “The first thing we need to understand about cloud is: there is no cloud. You’re really just using other people’s computers.” This more grounded definition reframes many cloud-related IT decisions. Nance continued, “The question you have to ask yourself is, how can I make the best use of other people’s computers?”

For some businesses, IT is the back office, and in many instances it simply needs to meet a functional performance standard. It may still be critical, but it’s not a competitive differentiator, and in these cases sometimes it’s fine to work with a minimal number of cloud vendors. For a rapidly growing number of companies, however, IT is the business, or at least the route to market. Financial services institutions in online trading, for instance, are in a perpetual IT “arm’s race”, where the competitiveness of the company directly mirrors the performance of IT. Airlines also fall into this category, in which IT is fully embedded in the company’s fabric. Such organizations must select from a pantheon of competing options to identify which cloud providers best serve various business functions. That’s no small task, admittedly. But here are a few factors to consider.

Identify your company’s various technical styles

Companies and their various departments may have different “technical styles” that require different cloud providers. Uber, for instance, has a mapping system powered by a complex calculation application that knows where you are and where the cars are, which requires edge caching. It’s ability to know who you are and take your payment, and then remember the driver that gave you the ride involves transaction-based processing. It also employs a marketplace, analogous to a trading engine that relies on the ability to deliver consistency over many different geographic locations by spreading workloads, ensuring that service continues in the event of a failure.

That’s three distinct styles of IT right there, and we’re likely only scratching the surface! But these are all elements that need to be considered in making cloud infrastructure selections. Resources like Paasify can help you begin to determine how the various elements of your IT styles mesh with various available resources.

Review your various performance locations

We’re predisposed to think of IT as being primarily consumed in the world’s business centers, like London, San Francisco or New York. Companies with performance needs in globally dispersed and remote locations, however, may need specialized cloud providers and aggregators. For instance, an energy company may need to deliver downline business to farmers in Ecuador or Malaysia, who need to order through WAP interfaces. Selecting providers in these cases often requires an additional degree of judiciousness, as the provider ecosystem may present the view that your cross-geographical needs will be covered, but this is not necessarily the case. You may need to dig a little deeper to determine what capabilities will actually be provided, and how sustainable your suppliers’ arrangements are in areas outside their core markets.

Regulatory issues

Regulatory legislation in different areas of the world, such as the Patriot Act or HIPAA, may necessitate use of different cloud providers. Europe provides a great case in point. Healthcare information regarding residents of Germany, for example, must be housed in Germany. Likewise, many Euro-zone countries have strict regulations regarding how data is managed. Companies operating between S. Korea and Singapore may face similar challenges due to strict Korean laws regarding transactional data.

Price and Service Level

Rackspace, with their value proposition is “fanatical service”, is more expensive than Amazon. And if your IT style necessitates the ability to regularly consult with a live person, this may be the way to go. If, for a certain function, you require nothing more than the ability to host an application, the automated services provided by Amazon or Google may be sufficient.

Additionally, such IT-driven companies may need to consider keeping certain IT functions in-house or in a private cloud. If cloud services are compared to electricity (which they often are), think of these companies as analogous to hospitals–they can’t lose power, even for a split-second, so they’re going to have multiple sources. Likewise, these companies can’t lose a beat with IT–they’ll constantly need to optimize and differentiate themselves in this regard.

Amidst all these considerations, one thing holds true: regardless of the technical style that is right for you, the cloud buying decision is strategic in nature, and therefore requires a strategic approach. Procurement is often accustomed to treating IT decisions as price-focused commodity plays, however, we’ve now entered a new era of business which requires new, broader thinking. In this new environment, we must match the evolving needs of the business–fit for purpose–and ensure that the service will do the job–fit for use.

Rens Troost Headshot

Rens Troost is president of Virtual Clarity, a consultancy that is helping some of the world’s leading companies make IT-as-a-Service (ITaaS) happen. Rens is a leader in the transformation of enterprise IT, and in the strategy and practice of enterprise cloud computing. His career has focused on delivering business value through IT innovation in advisory and executive roles.

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