What Buyers Look for in Cloud Computing Solutions

Thursday Jul 14th 2011 by Jeff Vance
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Real world examples of the key factors that companies consider as they select cloud computing solutions.

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Cloud computing, with its lower costs and increased flexibility, seems like a no-brainer -- until you start scrutinizing the many products and services available in the market today.

There are so many choices that it’s easy to become paralyzed, especially when every tech company under the sun is rebranding itself as a “cloud provider.” Behavioral economists call this paralysis the paradox of choice. Too much of a good thing can end up being just too much.

However, with a little advanced research and with a clear understanding going in of what features you need and what your top priorities are, the choices should be much more manageable. I polled a group of 50+ purchasers of cloud products and services, asking them what the deciding factors were as they selected cloud solutions. Here are five of the most common and most important questions they asked before purchasing cloud solutions.

1. Is the solution secure?

Security is consistently cited as the biggest concern enterprises have about cloud computing. Reports from hosting.com, IBM and the IT Governance Institute all illustrate how widespread cloud security fears are.

Responding to customer security concerns, hosting provider Carpathia sought a solution that would allow them to layer on-demand security onto their cloud offerings. The key was finding something that would assuage customers worries over a critical cloud drawback (well, a drawback from a security standpoint): multi-tenancy.

The company turned to Vyatta and its Network OS solution to address this problem. “Vyatta allows us to have basic policies at the front of our clouds – within each customer’s instantiation of their cloud environment they can deploy one or many Vyatta instances, giving them very fine-grain controls over everything from the traffic flow, to the firewall, to inspecting traffic with IPS,” said Jon Greaves, CTO of Carpathia.

Another big security issue is the headache of managing and administering an array of security devices. Many have sought out on-demand cloud security services to help alleviate these burdens. B&H Photo and AHIMA both turned to Symantec.cloud to handle email anti-virus and anti-spam. Before adopting a cloud-based service, both companies spent hours and hours each week responding to end-user problems and hunting for suspicious files.

Now, IT is able to move its focus away from email to other tasks. Moreover, the companies are now protected from zero-day attacks, since security delivered as a service removes the need to manually update new signatures and patches.

2. How stable is the provider?

Many of the most interesting cloud offerings come from startups and relative unknowns, so it’s important to do a little due diligence to determine whether or not the company will be around in a few years to keep delivering on its promises.

VAR MuniMetriX sought a cloud-based document management system, which would help them reposition themselves as a provider of cloud-based Enterprise Content Management (ECM) solutions. “With a cloud-based system, we would no longer be selling big-ticket items. Ongoing, predictable monthly revenue would be critical, and, of course, we needed to be sure we were working with a stable, viable partner. We couldn’t risk betting on a company that might be sold in the next six months, leaving us out in the cold,” said Bruce Rector, President of MuniMetriX.

The company selected the cloud-based ECM solution from Digitech Systems. Once MuniMetriX felt comfortable with the stability of Digitech Systems, the comfort level allowed them to drastically reshape their business.

“Almost 100 percent of our growth in the past few years is based on our cloud offerings,” Rector said. “We’ve gained about 400 new customers, and because we’re no longer responsible for integrating these solutions for desktop or server-based use, we don’t have to struggle with various operating systems and other interoperability issues. This, in turn, has greatly streamlined our sales cycle.”

If MuniMetriX hadn’t trusted the future of Digitech, they probably would have acted cautiously and risked being left behind as more aggressive competitors grabbed customers away from them.

 

 

3. Will availability/reliability suffer after moving to the cloud?

The lifeblood of The Daily Caller (DC), a news site founded by Tucker Carlson and Neil Patel, former policy director to Vice President Dick Cheney, is breaking news. If the site is down for an extended period of time, readers will go elsewhere – perhaps for good.

After the site went down for 11 hours due to a physical hosting infrastructure that was unable to handle bursting traffic, DC’s technology strategist, Patrick Kuo, knew they had to update their infrastructure. Before turning to cloud services, DC used a traditional server environment. Applications ran segregated on dedicated physical servers. The site would crash when traffic peaked – a major problem since the news business by nature sees traffic peaks every day.

The solution was to migrate to a cloud computing environment built on the VMware virtualization platform. DC and VMware partner Virtacore worked to craft a solution that loads site pages fast – DC wanted a three-megabyte page to load in four seconds or less – and delivers reliable uptime during peak demand.

The site is now designed so that “shallow” transactions touch only a “shallow” part of the infrastructure.

“If you’re a reader seeking simple delivery of content, it’s coming from the very first layer. If you’re interacting with the site and creating comments, you reach down a little further; but also, the number of readers interacting at that level is fewer – 80 percent of the traffic stops at the first layer – so performance is still very fast. The fewest number of end users are at the very deepest layer, the editorial staff and development people,” Kuo said.

Shortly after DC moved to the virtualized architecture, speed and availability were put to the test. The publication broke a series of news stories that attracted an unprecedented number of visitors – a typical month’s worth of traffic within 48 hours. The infrastructure held up just fine, with no outages or even delays.

4. Will the cloud solution integrate with my existing infrastructure, applications and services?

Emailvision, a provider of email marketing solutions, wanted to automate the way its sales team generated new contracts and purchase orders. Even though the company used Salesforce.com for Customer Relationship Management, the sales team was still manually generating new contracts and POs manually using Word and Excel. This process was time consuming and error prone.

As with many other businesses that have already invested in cloud or SaaS offerings, before bringing on yet another one, Emailvision needed to be sure that the new solution would be able to integrate information, functions and more across services and firewalls and between SaaS platforms and the company’s own on-premise solutions.

Emailvision eventually set its sights on RunMyProcess, a provider of platform as a service (PaaS) solutions. The RunMyProcess platform makes use of business process management (BPM) concepts to provide structured workflows and integration tools with more than 1,200 connectors for various applications.

Using the RunMyProcess platform, Emailvision designed a service that automatically creates a contract in Word and a purchase order in Excel whenever a new customer or new business is added to Salesforce.com. The documents are then emailed by the RunMyProcess platform to the sales person in charge of the account for validation. Emailvision estimates it has saved on average 15 minutes for each of the 300 proposals done monthly.

Based on this success, Emailvision has begun a second, more ambitious project to connect information flows between Salesfore.com, Sage ERP software and Campaign Commander, Emailvision’s SaaS email platform. According to Pascal Charrier, VP Global Services, Emailvision, the value of the RunMyProcess platform is its “ability to create a bridge between different systems that don’t communicate.”

5. Will switching to the cloud save me money?

If this list were numbered by order of importance, cost would come in at number one or two. However, I’m saving it for last, since so many of the cloud customers listed above included cost at the top of their lists of priorities.

Customers of Symantec.cloud, Vyatta, Digitech Systems, Virtacore and RunMyProcess all included lower costs as either a top concern going into the buying process or as one of the most significant benefits afterwards. According to a study by IT trade organization CompTIA, the transition to cloud computing is accelerating because of a desire to reduce capital expenditures.

In fact, lowering costs was cited by 85 percent of end-user respondents to the CompTIA survey. As the economy continues to struggle, the lower costs associated with cloud computing should further spur adoption, even as companies cut back on pretty much everything else.

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