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Not all clouds are created equal: Finding the best cloud provider for your business

With a dizzying array of cloud service provider available in a crowded market, choosing the best partner to fulfill your enterprise cloud computing needs is not always easy.

The majority of business leaders today understand that cloud computing will play a crucial role in their organisation's IT service delivery and future growth. With such high stakes, assessing and selecting a cloud provider capable of delivering on your business objectives and aligning with corporate strategies is of paramount importance.

Building on proven experience and extensive knowledge of datacentre technology, Intel's Cloud Finder provides guidance on cloud service providers to help business make informed decisions. Intel-powered cloud technology offers superior performance and data protection across the entire infrastructure stack. Powerful security mechanisms employed by cloud providers such as trusted compute pools and virtual machine isolation found in Intel VT support end-to-end security solutions allow enterprises to maintain integrity of their IT systems and meet compliance obligations.

With an extensive ecosystem of partners committed to developing optimised software solutions for Intel architecture, you can be confident that applications delivered by these partners are cloud ready. Intel Cloud Finder presents cloud industry best practices, and highlights a wide range of factors that must be considered to determine an appropriate cloud service partner for your business.

One of the top priorities for any organisation investing in cloud technology is security. System breaches resulting in data theft or loss can be particularly devastating. When engaging the services of a cloud provider, you are essentially outsourcing infrastructure security to a third party and must trust them to protect and secure data stored within their cloud. Published security policies of such providers must be reviewed carefully to ensure that their protocols align with internal policy.

Compliance with regulations and legal requirements governing your particular industry or sector should also be verified. Privacy legislation in certain jurisdictions strictly prescribe how and even where sensitive data such as personally identifiable information (PII) must be stored and protected. In such cases, geographic location may be a factor in deciding which third-party cloud services can be used. Certain cloud providers offer specific services exclusively targeted at government agencies that fulfil explicit compliance conditions imposed by central agencies.

Another important aspect is performance. Private cloud environments allow full control over infrastructure allocation and resource utilisation, providing predictable levels of performance. On the other hand, public clouds do not offer the same level of transparency, with few publishing their internal resource contention and load-balancing policies. It's often not possible to fully measure and compare performance metrics of cloud providers without trialling their services first. Some providers do, however, publish guaranteed minimum specifications that can be expected from their products and services, which can be used to guide the decision-making process.

The elastic nature of cloud technology allows organisations to meter their consumption of cloud resources to current demand, and effortlessly expand usage to meet growing demands. Following this, evaluation of cloud providers must determine whether they are capable of scaling sufficiently when more capacity is required. Some service providers place limits on the quantity of cloud resources they allow customers to automatically provision, so it would be wise to determine whether your peak or burst requirements require additional contractual negations.

Cloud reliability is a critical metric to consider, since service disruptions can have a significant impact on business operations. While the foundation of cloud computing is built on an architecture of distributed and redundant components designed to maximise availability, failures of certain components (notably networking) do still occur and impact service reliability.

Enterprise cloud providers specify minimum uptime guarantees for their services through service-level agreements (SLAs). It is vital to fully understand the differences in guarantees and potential impact on availability; an SLA offering 99.9 percent availability allows for 8.76 hours of downtime during a year, while 99.99 percent availability indicates that no more than 52.56 minutes of downtime should be expected during the same time period. Generally speaking, the higher the level of guarantee, the more costly the service. Carefully review a cloud provider's compensation policy covering situations where they fail to meet the agreed SLA.

It is imperative to conduct a proper risk assessment before selecting a cloud service partner. While rare, data loss within a cloud is definitely possible, and you should be aware of the cloud provider's policies covering such occurrences and how they would rectify the situation. Check for provisions in the provider's SLA that address potential data loss, and compare backup and disaster recovery plans.

Embarking on a cloud project with a new partner raises questions about integration. Most cloud service providers offer APIs allowing clients to automatically provision, manage, and monitor cloud resources. It is necessary to evaluate the costs and lead time required to integrate these APIs into your company's existing workflows and subsequently deploy your workloads into the cloud. When implementing hybrid cloud architecture, it is important to understand the integration requirements of connecting your private cloud to the public cloud.

As with any enterprise product or service, it's vital to understand support options offered by the cloud vendor. This includes initial consulting, advice, and training for service integration, as well as troubleshooting and direct assistance when problems occur. Support may be offered by a variety of means, including email, telephone, or even on-premises, and while a certain level of basic support may be offered as part of a base contract, additional or escalation support may attract additional fees.

Lastly, the most significant factor in determining an appropriate cloud service provider is cost. Cloud-based solutions are generally economical and follow a metered approach where clients only pay for resources they consume. However, it is important to be aware of any additional charges levied by the provider to ensure that there are no hidden surprises. Unanticipated increases in resource usage due to higher demand can also lead to unexpected costs.

With a dizzying array of alternatives available in a crowded cloud provider market, choosing the best partner to fulfil your enterprise cloud computing needs is not easy. Intel Cloud Finder attempts to simplify this process by providing resources and insights on cloud technology to help you understand the capabilities provided by Intel-powered cloud providers. With many potential pitfalls and caveats to consider, it's worth spending time to evaluate all the options and make an informed choice.

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