Sorting Out the Differences Between Cloud Solutions

30 Oct 2019

The allure of the cloud has been, for many, the hope that it will be the equivalent of the “Easy button” that will resolve challenges such as scalability, complexity, resource constraints, and more. But as the cloud marketplace matures, it has become apparent that not all clouds are created equal. In fact, the term “cloud” seems to have so many definitions that it has become an imprecise catch-all phrase open to interpretation and marketing spin.

If you are making a decision about which technology to use, how do you sort through all of the confusion?

What questions do you ask to reveal the differences among offers so you understand the which kind of cloud you are actually getting?

Before providing a list of questions, here is a quick overview of the options:

  1. Multi-tenant public cloud. Multiple customers share the same resources. 
    1. With most, customization is provided through APIs (Application Program Interface), which are one of the most common ways technology companies integrate with each other. Common integrations include Salesforce, MS Dynamics and other CRM systems. There are APIs for emergency notification systems, property management systems, and many other applications. Be sure that an API already exists for the application(s) you are using; custom development in the public cloud can be difficult.
    2. Development is ongoing, and incremental changes are made frequently. Features changes are incremental and typically are easy to learn. However, the customer has no control over the update schedule.
    3.  The newer architectures are typically microprocessor based and are easily scalable, without any architectural changes.
  2. Private cloud. Each customer has a single, private instance of the software that is not shared by others. However, the definition varies considerably among providers. In many cases, the software is essentially the same as a premise system, and is virtualized in a data center.
    1. Customization can be done through APIs or custom programming.
    2. Upgrades are scheduled by the customer when convenient. Changes are only introduced via scheduled upgrades.
    3. Growth typically involves additional virtual resources.

While architecture is important, there are other considerations when selecting a cloud solution. The best solution should also include features that meet your requirements, a solid deployment model, reliable billing, management tools, and robust ongoing support. Note that none of the questions below address these concerns.

So, what questions should you ask to uncover what type of cloud services are being offered? Here are some:

Platform

  • Is your platform based on a microservices infrastructure (public cloud) or is it virtualized (private cloud)?
  • Are customers shut down for maintenance, or is there continual up time?
  • Are hybrid options available? How do they work?
  • Is the platform supportable? As the number of customers on your platform has increased, how much have the number of tickets increased? (If the number of support tickets remains constant, or decreases, as a percentage of the number of customers, this indicates the stability of the platform). 

Customization

  • Does your architecture provide access to APIs and the underlying data?
  • What are the customization options?
  • Can the services be federated with outside organizations or individuals?

Feature velocity

  • Can you schedule the delivery of upgrades/new features (private cloud)?   Or are they automatic (public cloud)?
  • How often is software updated (large chunks (private cloud), or iterative small bites (public cloud))?
  • How big is the deployment team?  (A small team is indicative of a multi-tenant cloud solution).

Security

  • Do they offer secure signaling?
  • Is the data stream encrypted?
  • Do they provide e-discovery?

Scalability

  • If you are growing fast, can they scale with you? Is it inexpensive?
  • Explain what happens when loads increase in a significant way (Does it expand / contract automatically (public cloud) or require deployment of new resources (private cloud)?

Failover

  • Do they offer:
    • manual failover,
    • active/passive with failover or
    • active/active, load balanced with automatic failover? 
  • How long does it take to switch to another data center?
  • What are the criteria for switching to another data center?
  • How is the architecture tested? How often?

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