Cloud Hosting – Five Questions You Should Ask Your Provider

There has been a lot of noise this week on the major failure suffered by Amazon EC2, with the press quick to denounce the whole cloud computing model.  But does this failure mean that Cloud Computing should not be Cloud Hosting Questionstrusted?

This concern has existed since long before the term ‘Cloud Computing’ was coined.  Businesses have been outsourcing their hosting for years, and outages in any IT solution are inevitable.  With Cloud they tend to affect more customers simutaneoulsy than with traditional hosting models, but it’s true to say that IT infrastructure has come a long way in recent years, so such outages are now few and far between.

The frequency of outages does not however stop customers from rightly being concerned about how their data and applications will be managed – availability, security and data loss being the key concerns raised by most prospective clients.  It’s impossible for clients to cover all the bases when selecting a provider, but by asking a few key questions before committing, and comparing the answers, you should be able to get a feel for how they compare.  In addition to using the answers to compare and contrast different cloud providers, you should compare against your own infrastructure – if a cloud provider is not going to do a better job than you – either in terms of enhanced flexibility/availability or reduced cost – then you must ask yourself why you are bothering?

At StratoGen we get asked all sorts of questions about our Cloud Hosting platform, but here I’m going to list 5 that I think everyone should ask of their Cloud provider, which cover off most of the key concerns.  Sure there are plenty more questions you could ask, but these are the ones I think you should ask,

  • What happens to my servers or applications in the event of a hardware failure or a total datacentre blackout?

Your Cloud Provider should be using a self healing infrastructure so that failure of any individual hardware compenent should in the very worst case only result in a automated reboot.  Not all cloud providers will offer geographic resilience as standard, but datacentre blackouts are rare and tend to be of short duration.  You should however check that your data is backed up to another site, should the worst happen.

  • How is my data secured?

Security requirements vary from client to client so there is no one size fits all solution.  You should consider network security, data security (you’ll be on shared storage) and don’t forget portal security – it’s no use having a great firewall in place in front of your servers, if you can log on to your cloud account with an insecure password and console directly onto your machines!

  • Where is my data stored?

Data Location is a big issue for many businesses, and often personal data is goverened by local laws – you should check that you are not breaching any laws by storing your data in a prohibited country.

  • How is my data backed up?

Check data backup is included, and that the frequncy and retention period is suitable for your needs.  Ask about application awareness, restore procedures, time to initiate restore etc.  Most businesses can tolerate some downtime, few can tolerate loss of data and it is up to you to ensure that the backup procedures offered by your cloud provider will adequately protect your data.

  • Please can you give me a list of outages or problems experienced in the past 12 months?

Every provider has issues, big and small.  From disk failures to network outages to power failures, we all suffer from time to time.   If your provider tells you they have had no issues, they are probably lying.  Get them to tell you about the issues and how they affected other clients – this will give you a feel for their openness – you could also check this with their reference customers.

Whichever provider you choose, plan for failure, as you would when building your own IT infrastructure.

About Karl Robinson

I am an experienced sales professional who has spent over 15 years in the IT & Internet Industry, specialising in hosting and hosted services. Prior to founding StratoGen I co-founded Cloud Data, another provider of hosted services, at the same time as heading up the sales operation of UK based SAAS provider In-Tuition Networks. As Managing Director of Mistral Internet Group Limited, a UK business Internet Service Provider I lead the growth of the business from £2m to £21m in a 7 year period. This growth was recognised in the Sunday Times Techtrack 100 where Mistral was listed as one of the UK’s fastest growing technology companies for 4 out of 5 consecutive years. I was responsible for driving the organic growth of the business through over 20 sales staff, plus he was instrumental in the acquisition and integration of 9 other businesses before ultimately being involved in the disposal of Mistral to Kingston Communications. Mistral was sold to Kingston Communications in January 2007 and I stayed on as Sales Director of the newly formed Internet and Hosting Services division. When not working, I can usually be found riding, racing or tinkering with motorbikes, and spending time with my family.

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