Eight questions to ask before choosing an IaaS vendor

As more companies turn to infrastructure as a service, more vendor choices are bound to pop up. Here are some questions to help IT leaders pick the right one.
Written by Mary Shacklett, Contributor

Infrastructure as a service (IaaS) is fast becoming a major IT initiative in many companies. Two-thirds of respondents to a recent IDC survey said that they were either using or planning to use some form of public cloud IaaS by the end of 2016. IDC also forecasted that public cloud IaaS revenues will more than triple, from $12.6 billion in 2015 to $43.6 billion in 2020.

But as IaaS becomes an alternative to adding more on-premises computing, companies should also ask questions and adopt best practices. Here are eight questions that should be on every IaaS decision maker's list:

Can you trust your IaaS vendor?

Procuring IaaS as a commodity 'add' of processing or storage can be as simple as signing an agreement and provisioning whatever resources you need from the vendor when you need them -- but at least at the beginning of your relationship, it shouldn't be that easy. Your IaaS vendor should have the same level of governance and security that you do. If your data is being stored by the IaaS vendor, it should also be maintained securely and privately. This is easier said than done, as there are still IaaS vendors that have come from less formal cultures that lack some of the disciplinary and governance standards that many enterprises operate under. Your agreement on data privacy, security and governance levels should be part of any contract with your IaaS provider before you do business with them.

What about vendor lock-in?

One the best things about IaaS is that it's easy to upload applications and data to an IaaS vendor, and to just work on the IaaS platform without having to stand in line for high demand internal resources in the data center. But what if you decide to switch vendors or to re-insource your data and apps? Some companies find that as they move a growing number of apps and data to IaaS, it's not easy to move their apps and data back to an on premises implementation, let alone to another IaaS provider. If the ability to move in and out of an IaaS service is important, you should negotiate how this will occur in your contract -- and hold your IaaS vendor to a written service-level agreement that addresses speed and quality of support in moving apps/data out of as well as into IaaS.

How will going to an IaaS impact your IT staff?

A majority of IaaS users are larger enterprises that have their own IT staff. The reason that these companies choose IaaS is that they want to continue managing their own applications and data in the cloud, with cloud-furnished resources. In scenarios like this, decision makers should ask themselves what types of apps and data they want to move to IaaS and how their staff will manage these. Will plugging into an IaaS mean that some of your staff will have to move so they are on premises at the IaaS? Or that application development and testing procedures will need to be modified if you outsource them? Or that your disaster recovery plan mechanics will need be modified if you are using the IaaS as part of your disaster recovery strategy with potential ramifications on your liability insurance coverages? All of these areas should be reviewed before you sign a contract.

What are the best areas in which to deploy IaaS?

An overwhelming number of companies look for IaaS solutions when they see hikes in their application development and test workloads and they are constrained internally on processing and storage. In these cases, moving applications development and testing activities to an IaaS provider makes a lot of sense. You get the app development and test platforms that you need, and each developer can have his or her own development and testing region so they don't have to share these resources and wait their turn for limited internal resources -- and the data center doesn't have to purge new software and hardware. In other cases, sites use IaaS services for disaster recovery and backup, because IaaS is a relatively inexpensive means of replicating production environments and failover mechanisms at a remote location if disaster strikes the corporate data center.

Can your IaaS provider become a long-term business partner?

If you are engaging an IaaS provider and plugging them into your internal IT processes, your aim should be to find a company that can be with you for the long haul. Part of the homework you should do before engaging an IaaS provider is to ask the firm for its latest financial, IT and security audits. If the company is unable to furnish these to you, you might want to seek out another IaaS provider.

Will bandwidth and latency become issues?

Before signing on with an IaaS provider, you should ask the provider about its data communications from and to its site, as well as checking into your own. It doesn't do any good to sign up with an internet-based service like IaaS if your people can't access the site because of internet service disruptions or data pipeline clogs. In your contract, you should develop a service-level agreement that addresses access speed and quality of service.

How will you be charged?

Will you be billed on a pay-for-use or monthly subscription basis, or a combination of both? Are there certain times of day (or certain resources) that you will encounter surcharges for and that could exceed your budget? Many IaaS service providers have highly complex pricing models, so there is a natural tendency to avoid the fine print of pricing schedules. Don't. Make it your business to know exactly what it is that you are going to be paying for -- and make sure that you or a member of your staff reviews billings regularly.

Should you try before you buy?

Performing a small pilot project with an IaaS provider is a good way to get a feel for the vendor and what project coordination is likely to be like -- before you start moving too much IT out to IaaS.

The move to IaaS services is more than just a convenient shift of IT assets. IaaS will modify your data and applications architecture. It will change the way IT works, and it could even impact your insurance policies. Fortunately, most IT decision makers are up to the challenge. They just need to balance the benefits and the challenges of IaaS to arrive at the best fit for IaaS in their organizations.

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