Finding the ideal IaaS provider

Finding the best IaaS provider matters, and price isn't the only consideration. Here are six items that should be on everyone's IaaS checklist when shopping for a vendor.
Written by Mary Shacklett, Contributor

The beauty of infrastructure as a service (IaaS) is its ability to provide IT resources to companies as they need them. This gives data center managers the option of not having to spend hard dollars for resources that might stand idle 80 percent of the time at the same time that it turns processing and storage into commodities that can be ordered whenever they’re needed.

But there are inherent risks in this thinking—beginning with the fact that IaaS 'commodity shopping' is not as clearcut as picking up whatever happens to be on special in a given week.

Who you select for your IaaS services matters — and the decision you make should be based on more than price. Here are six items that should be on your IaaS 'checklist' when you go looking for an IaaS provider:

Knowledge of your industry

When you seek an IaaS provider, you are asking that provider to assume some of your IT work. It’s to your advantage if the provider can offer expertise in your industry that includes compliance with regulatory, security and other governance requirements that your applications and data must conform to.

Technical competence and consultative capability

You should expect your IaaS provider to exceed or at least minimally meet (if your IT staff is strong) the standards of technical excellence that you expect of your own data center. The best IaaS providers do this. They also offer consultative services that can assist in infrastructure planning. 

An ecosystem of software and hardware business partners

Great IaaS operations never stand alone. They have a network of business partners that stand with them, beginning with the vendors of their hardware and software. Take the time to find out how 'deep' these relationships go and what the service-level performance agreements between these parties are. When service problems arise (and they will), you want to know that the best people with the most knowledge are working on them.

Direct control of the data center

Look for IaaS providers that own their own data centers. When IaaS providers lease data center facilities from third parties, the liabilities and responsibilities for service performance and outages become cloudy—and you get caught in the middle.

Scalable and flexible contracts

The attraction of IaaS is its ability to upwardly or downwardly scale IT resources to meet the demands of your organization. This same flexibility should be reflected in your contract with an IaaS provider. The monthly subscription (and the amount of monthly resources contracted for) should be clearly understood by all parties entering into an agreement. So should the escalating (or diminishing) costs based upon scaling resources upward or downward. It should also be as easy for your company to exit the IaaS contract as it is to enter it. To facilitate this, the IaaS vendor should be held to SLAs for both seamless entry and seamless exit from IaaS services.

Great customer service

Once you are onboard with an IaaS provider, great customer service becomes the most important element of your day-to-day relationship. There is no way that you can absolutely know what customer service will be like until you are a customer, but one thing sites can do is to make detailed customer reference checks a more central part of their vendor interview process. An IaaS vendor will typically furnish you with a short list of references that it knows will give you good reviews.  Instead, sites should ask the prospective vendor for a total list of customers that the site can choose from. In this way, you stand a better chance of getting an unabridged opinion of vendor performance. Other customer-oriented questions to ask the vendor are: what is the average length of its customer relationships (i.e., the longer a customer has been with a vendor, the more indicative this is of continuous return of value to the customer); and whether the vendor has ever lost a customer.

Editorial standards