8 Questions to Ask Prospective Cloud Vendors

From security concerns and challenging migrations to hidden costs and compliance, cloud deployments are fraught with pitfalls. IT analyst Bill Claybrook shares his advice for vetting cloud vendors.

When you're on an airliner and fly through layers of clouds, you see first-hand that they come in many forms — sometimes hazy, sometimes translucent and sometimes so dense that you can't see through them. In many ways, cloud computing is similar — there are lots of gray areas, and it's hard to know exactly what you might get from each cloud offering.

The decision to pursue a cloud computing strategy is checkered with questions: What cloud vendor do you hire? What apps do you put in the cloud? Do you use a public cloud or a private cloud? Then there are the issues of security, availability and disaster recovery to consider.

Taking the time to address those considerations is critical, says Bill Claybrook, principal of Concord, Mass.-based New River Marketing Research Inc. The more information gathering you do at the start, he says, the better your results will be when you finally implement the cloud strategy that best fits your needs.

Here, Claybrook shares his list of the top eight questions CIOs should ask prospective cloud vendors.

1. Can I see your data center? To know how secure your data and applications are going to be with a vendor, Claybrook recommends hitting the road. "If I ran a datacenter, I'd want to visit any prospective cloud vendor's facilities and ask them to show me what kind of environment they have, what their security controls are, and let me see what they've got," says Claybrook. "They'd have to convince me how it would all work."

2. How do I move my apps to the cloud? CIOs often neglect to ask how they can actually move their apps and data to the cloud, says Claybrook. "Usually you send it over some kind of trusted network connection [such as a VPN], but you need to know how it's done with each vendor."

3. How are my apps and data protected from other users on the same cloud servers? Don't make any assumptions about how vendors handle multiple users, also known as multi-tenants, on the same cloud servers, Claybrook says. Ask detailed questions about the extent to which your data and apps will be protected when running with those of other cloud customers. Claybrook recommends having each vendor show you how they segregate their customers' data and applications.

4. Can I speak with some of your customers? Claybrook recommends asking for customer references. Speaking with customers will give you the opportunity to compare what the vendor has told you with actual customer experiences, he says.

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