Navigating the hybrid cloud maze: Have you agreed on a cost of exit?

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How times change. When the Cloud Industry Forum first started surveying cloud take-up, about seven years ago, most businesses still weren’t using any cloud services. Its latest survey, published this spring, revealed that nearly 90 per cent of organisations are using cloud, each one deploying three cloud-based services.

That’s quite a turnaround. What’s most remarkable is the way that multicloud deployment has become the norm. Seven years ago, organisations would have been turning to a single provider and treating that as a bold step in the dark.

But how do customers work out what cloud providers to go for? When there was just one provider, then at least there was an acceptance that, for good or bad, the choice had been made. With a multiplicity of options, however, there’s now the need to think of the right balance and determine which cloud provider is the right one.

For most companies, the choice is an easy one: they go where most of the customers go and play safe. “There’s a natural tendency to go for one of the big boys,” says Alex Hilton, CEO of the Cloud Industry Forum, “the likes of AWS, Microsoft, Google or IBM, if you’re a large enterprise.”

According to Xavier Poisson, HPE vice president, Indirect Digital Service, the question that companies should be asking is “How much is it going to cost to exit this cloud?”

It is difficult for an enterprise to evaluate the cost of exit, he says, because there are so many factors to consider before moving to another supplier. “For example,” he explains, “the format of the data may differ, so you can’t just move from one provider to another.” Cloud customers should be asking themselves whether they have a contract setting out the cost of exit, he adds.

While it’s simple to stick to one provider, it’s not always the best policy. “I was talking to the CIO of a financial company yesterday and he’s made the decision to go with AWS. That’s all well and good but what if the company puts its prices up, he’s stuck with that provider.”

And in this world, it’s not always easy to look after another alternative. It’s easy for your development team to start a project by using public cloud but once you move on and start in production, then you’re limited, says Poisson. “If you want to migrate to a different public cloud, it’s not straightforward. First of all, you have to put workloads in another private cloud, but it’s not possible to move directly between public clouds.”

So, that also increases the degree of complexity. Not only does an organisation have to choose between public cloud providers, it also has to consider which private cloud vendors to use and how to make the most of their products.

When it comes to public cloud, there’s not much to choose between them. The major cloud providers will have their own adherents, they offer massively scalable infrastructure, unparalleled security, no single points of failure and financial stability. But that’s only part of the picture.

“What they don’t offer,” says Ray Bricknell, CEO of cloud consultancy Behind Every Cloud “is too much help. You’re left pretty much on your own. What the big players don’t tell you is how to globalise (what product is best suited for your Hong Kong office); what to put on the edge and what to put on the core; or how to link multiple clouds together. The providers leave everything up to you.”

Behind Every Cloud has developed a system called the Clover Index, described as a sort of Trip Advisor for cloud, to guide organisations. It considers about 300 metrics all defined under 28 attributes. Bricknell says this answers the questions that companies should be asking before going down the multicloud route.

“For example, why do we want a vendor that’s been around for five years? The answer is that companies who have been around for that long are probably on their third iteration and they’ve learned from that. I’ve never seen a vendor get it right the first time,” says Bricknell.

What the index does do is set out the sort of questions that prospective cloud customers should be asking their providers, questions like the number of clients and their size. Whether the provider would have ability to help develop a devops team. What’s the geographic reach: is the provider global or regional? Does the provider take an approach similar to Rackspace and offer a managed service or walk away and leave the client to its own devices. Does the provider offer strategic advice or project management assessment? These are all relevant questions.

HPE has its own project, Cloud 28+, which offers a similar degree of security to help an organisation make the right choice. Cloud 28+ is an open community of cloud providers and software companies that offers a degree of reliability. “We now have 628 partners in Cloud 28+,” says Poisson. It provides plenty of help on cloud providers.

What else should you be looking for in order to make the right choice? There are plenty of other pointers to guide you, says Hilton. “I can look for a standard set of tick boxes. Do they have the right ISO certifications, we have our own CIF code of practice, which is increasingly being asked for. You have vendor certifications, senior partners in firms really should have those.”

But there are other options for European customers: If you're working in EMEA, there is a lot of information published by the EU and a lot of studies from the European Commission.

It's easy for people to malign the cloud as being complex, according to Hilton. He prefers to turn things around, though, and to look at things from a different perspective: "There’s plenty of choice out there for customers,” he says. “It’s no different from when it was an on-premises world.”

It's just a case of doing your research and making the right - and informed - choices.



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