Deciding on a cloud vendor is one of the most important decisions you’ll make -- and often one of the most bewildering. The dizzying number of features, options, and configurations can confuse even the most seasoned buyer. If you want to keep it simple, start by considering the following important factors:
- Feature set
- Reliability and performance
Price is essential in any cloud vendor comparison. Of course, the ultimate expression of cost is the total cost of ownership, which can be difficult to determine but is an important place to invest your time. Start by searching for a cloud provider that offers simple and predictable pricing based on a flat fee, not usage. You should be able to scale up or down without penalties, which will make determining your total cost of ownership more straightforward and reliable.
“We comparison shopped. AWS was far more expensive, and its pricing policies were not clear at all, whereas Linode’s pricing structure is easy to understand.” - Bernd Hilmar, Virtexxa Cloud Services
Many cloud providers offer a rich feature set that rivals a Cheesecake Factory menu. You want to make sure a cloud provider offers the features you need today and as your needs change and your organization grows.
Today’s cloud customers are looking for more than just a place to store files and host a website or application. Ensure your cloud provider has the core functions available to serve your workloads. You’ll need an automated deployment platform like Kubernetes and an infrastructure management tool like Terraform or Ansible, DDoS protections, S3-compatible object storage capabilities, and other services for securing and managing your cloud environment. It is also good to look for a cloud vendor with a full-service API to allow for customization and provide an environment for DevOps-style rapid deployment.
One aspect of the feature set that often gets overlooked is the need for portability. Some cloud providers will try to sell you in-house deployment and management utilities that lock you in and limit how your infrastructure can evolve and grow. Look for a vendor that supports open-source tools and open APIs. In addition to ensuring flexibility for future growth, open tools have the added benefit of easing the learning curve because they get used throughout the industry, and many developers are already familiar with them.
Some organizations might be content to work with a regional vendor and a regional data center, but if your company extends to multiple geographical regions, the cloud provider’s reach and their peering arrangements can make a difference to latency and the connection quality. And remember that bigger is not always better. A smart provider tuned in to customer needs can secure the arrangements necessary for efficient communication at a global scale without the need for hyperscale bloat.
For most customers, reliability and performance are different factors, but they speak to the cloud provider’s commitment to providing enterprise-grade hardware and maintaining it proactively to maximize the return on the customer’s investment. Look for a vendor that can supply 99.99% uptime, and don’t be shy about requesting performance data.
No matter how carefully you plan, a moment will come when you will be glad to have a cloud provider that offers robust and comprehensive support. Look for a vendor with 24/7/365 global support services and extensive technical documentation written for enterprise-level IT professional staff.
Some cloud providers might advertise a specialty in a field such as HPC, DevOps, or engineering modeling. But you also need to read between the lines. You can tell a lot by studying the tools provided with the cloud environment. It also helps to talk with the cloud provider’s support staff to get beyond the sales pitch and determine how familiar they are with the kinds of problems you face every day.
The various sectors of the cloud market offer varying levels of support for these important factors. A small vendor might offer the best price but might be missing some important features. A larger provider might have a global reach but not be competitive on cost or overly dependent on proprietary tools that will limit your future growth.
Flip Keijzer, who runs WordPress hosting provider, Savvii, told us that “the hyperscalers, on average, are more expensive for us than using alternative cloud providers. They’re fantastic in feature development, especially Amazon, but there will be about 80% of features that I don’t need, which makes it tough to handle, and the support, we would not know where to begin to get it.”
Companies like Linode, DigitalOcean, and OVHcloud can provide an additional option for customers that prefer to diversify with a multicloud configuration rather than placing their destiny in the hands of a single cloud provider.
Choosing the right cloud provider should help you save money, avoid downtime, and stay agile as your needs change. Whatever your goals, find a cloud provider that is right for your needs today and in the future.
Sam Smith is a Customer Success Manager at Akamai’s Linode Cloud. He’s responsible for pursuing and maintaining close business relationships with the company’s largest partners and clients.