How To Choose The Right Cloud Provider For You
This article has also appeared on Snapt
Many companies have realized that they need to embrace the cloud in some form or another. After all, the cloud offers greater availability across a global landscape as well as improved redundancy and performance regardless of where a user accesses sites, so it’s far easier to use cloud providers’ tools than to bear the burden and expense of managing servers around the globe.
However, deciding to move to the cloud is only the first step, as there are scores of solution providers from which to choose. Finding the cloud provider that will best support the success of your business is a crucial stage in your cloud journey, one that requires a broad understanding of the various cloud solution providers and what they offer.
Before looking at the many cloud solution providers, though, it’s important to understand the criteria for evaluating these services before pushing ahead with a comparison of service providers.
Developing a deeper understanding of the following criteria and how they relate to the needs of your business will equip you to solve this complex conundrum by identifying the best cloud service provider(s) for you.
1. Service Analysis
Every cloud provider has its strengths and weaknesses in terms of the various services and tools it offers. You should evaluate providers based on whether their selection of services and tools meets your needs. Are you looking for cheap storage and some data processing or machine learning, or are you running an entire application and deployment pipeline from the cloud and perhaps need some serverless processing?
Your analysis should consider your needs as well as the technology choices and programming languages that will best support your current applications. The latter are especially important in the case of existing applications that you want to move to the cloud, as you must consider not only the service providers offering the best features in a particular area but also the ones that are most compatible with your existing tech, as those will offer easier migration.
This is a complex topic that requires deep analysis across diverse service providers, so I will touch on it only briefly here. It’s important, though, that companies do not simply jump onto the bandwagon of a cloud provider with a good reputation but ensure that they choose one that offers a good technology match for their organization.
2. Regional Availability
Just as cloud providers offer differing tools, they also offer varied support and availability across global regions. This is an important consideration, from both the development and customer perspective, for companies that need to keep their data within specific regions and ensure that their systems are prioritized for the specific global markets in which they operate This factor is so important that it is often the only one considered in decision-making by companies that are based in countries and regions not well supported by all the cloud service providers. Cloud service providers are working hard to be as widely available as possible across the globe, but where these disparities exist companies must consider this important factor in their cloud decision-making.
In this area the bigger service providers (such as AWS, Microsoft, Google, and Oracle) understandably enjoy an advantage, offering regional availability on every continent and often having many data centers, which provide additional support for various contingencies for those who need it. For a full comparison of some of the bigger players, look at this analysis from C-sharp Corner, which highlights the regional coverage of the leading cloud service providers as well as the compliance certifications they bring to the table.
3. Cloud Security
It should go without saying that security remains a crucial factor in your cloud needs, as no company can afford to compromise on it. Security is a top concern in the cloud (and everywhere else these days), so it’s critical to ask detailed, explicit questions related to your industry, unique use cases, regulatory requirements, and other concerns. Do not fail to evaluate this essential feature of operating in the cloud.
You want to understand your specific security goals, the security measures offered by each provider, and the mechanisms they use to safeguard your applications and data. In addition, make sure you fully understand the specific areas for which each party is responsible. Consider what security features are offered at no cost, out-of-the-box, by each vendor you’re evaluating, what additional paid services they offer, and where you may need to supplement your security with third-party partners’ technology.
4. Cloud Compliance
Next, make sure you choose a cloud architecture platform that meets the compliance standards of your industry and organization. Whether you are beholden to GDPR, SOC 2, PCI DSS, HIPAA, or another framework, make sure you understand what it takes to be compliant once your applications and data are living in a public cloud infrastructure.
For instance, countless regulations address financial transactions and data privacy/storage in various countries, so it’s important that companies ensure that their cloud strategies meet these regulatory challenges, which may require different solutions in different regions.
When choosing a cloud provider, think about how the architecture will be incorporated into your workflows, both now and in the future. For example, if your organization has already invested heavily in the Microsoft universe, it might make sense to use Azure because Microsoft gives its customers Azure licenses (and often some free credits). If your organization relies more on Amazon or Google services, you may wish to choose those vendors for ease of integration and consolidation.
You may also want to consider cloud storage architectures when making your decision. When it comes to storage, the three major vendors have similar architectures and offer multiple types of storage to fit diverse needs, but they all offer different types of archival storage. If this is important to you, you will want to understand the nuanced differences between them. Each service offers options for storing and retrieving data frequently vs. infrequently (hot vs. cool storage). Typically, cool storage costs less but comes with various restrictions.
You should also consider what the various cloud platforms will demand of you in terms of management. Every service supports different orchestration tools and integrates with various other services, so, if you have services that are particularly vital to your organization, make sure your chosen cloud provider offers an easy way to integrate with it (or make sure your organization is comfortable with switching to a similar service that is supported).
Before you make a final decision, you’ll want to determine what it will cost your team in time and effort to manage various aspects of the cloud infrastructure.
7. Service Levels and Support
Depending on the skills and focus of your organization, you may require different levels of service to support your cloud solution. Some organizations have the expertise to devise cloud solutions themselves with minimal support, but many will require a fair amount of assistance, both in building and developing their solutions and by means of a rapid service level agreement (SLA) response to keep them up and running when problems occur.
If you need help, will you be able to get it quickly and simply? In some cases, you will get support only through a chat service or call center, which may or may not be acceptable. In other cases, you may have access to dedicated support, but there’s a good chance you’ll face constraints on time and access. Before you choose a cloud provider, ask questions upfront about what kind and level of support it offers.
Cloud fees largely follow a pay-as-you-go model, which means that certain levels of support come at an extra cost, so companies should understand what levels of support are offered and at what rates. Consider prospective providers’ contractual support obligations and whether they will meet your various needs. This is one criterion that often favors the smaller providers, who can provide high-level support and attention more cheaply than the bigger players, who simply have too many clients to offer that level of service without a significant cost investment.
While it should never be the only or most important consideration, there’s no denying that cost plays a big role in choosing a cloud service provider. Importantly, companies look to embrace the cloud not only to improve their service delivery but also to reduce production costs, so price will always be a key factor when looking at a proposed cloud offering.
It’s important for companies to understand how costs will be measured and calculated for various services so that they can better plan and budget for their needs and ensure that they find a cloud provider that won’t match only their needs but also their wallet.
Here’s a look at the pricing structures of the three major players, along with a fourth that provides a good look at what similar smaller providers offer :
Amazon Web Services
Amazon determines its price by rounding up the number of hours used. The minimum use is one hour. Instances can be purchased in one of three ways:
Pay-as-you-go: Pay for what you use, with no upfront cost.
Reserved: Reserve instances for one or three years, with an upfront cost based on use.
Volume discounts: Acquire more services as your company grows and receive volume discounts for specific services, such as Amazon S3 storage.
GCP bills for instances per second used. Interestingly, the company also offers “sustained-use pricing” and “committed use discounts” for computing services, which is a simpler and more elastic model than AWS’s reserved instances. You can read more about how these work here.
Azure bills customers on demand by the hour, gigabyte, or millions of executions, depending on the specific product. Like AWS, it also provides the option to reserve instances.
Digital Ocean may be a comparatively small player, but it offers a pricing structure that makes it competitive for many companies, even if it lacks features and regional availability. Its flat pricing structure aims for predictability, with fixed monthly expenses depending on the data centers and features used. Many smaller companies, especially, will find this easy to understand and budget for, although this model does affect scalability.
As you can see, there is no simple apples-to-apples comparison when it comes to prices. It’s not as though AWS costs $5 and GCP costs $10. Instead, you’ll need to look at your usage patterns (or predicted usage patterns) and determine which of the three best fits your business model, budget, timeline, and so on.
There is no doubt that company's need to adopt a cloud strategy, but its even more important that they do their homework and ensure that they select the right partner to allow them to thrive in this important space while minimizing the risks and costs associated with this transition.