The IT industry moves at light speed fueled by constant change and advancement. No area of IT has been affected more by this change than the hosting and managed service space.
Advancement in the cloud and its delivery models of IaaS and SaaS have caused a monumental shift in the way IT services are deployed and delivered. Beginning in the early 2000s IaaS, Infrastructure as a Service, emerged on the scene. IaaS offered a standardized infrastructure that was pre-provisioned and ready-to-go at a moment’s notice. This delivery mechanism eliminated the manual process of ordering and provisioning dedicated hardware in favor of standardization and automation, combined with pre-staged equipment. Many players in the hosting industry shrugged off IaaS and downplayed its significance, stating it was too rigid and too standard and businesses need custom solutions that IaaS could not address. But as the IaaS market evolved, what was thought to be insignificant actually ended up being a significant market disruptor. So much so that Gartner renamed the “Hosting and Managed Service” category to “Cloud-Enabled Managed Hosting.”
This new category will focus on managed services being offered on top of an IaaS delivery model. Whether managing customers’ infrastructure or applications, providers that can successfully leverage automation and standardization to augment (not replace) their human-powered services will be able to achieve greater scale and better customer satisfaction over time. Human expertise will always be a part of the equation in the managed end of the market, but automation – when envisioned and implemented properly – can serve as a significant amplifier for an organization’s existing technical expertise, and deliver better customer outcomes over time.
So now that we have discussed this genesis of Cloud-Enabled Managed Hosting providers lets look at criteria that sets players in this space apart from one another and the five things a cloud provider should offer to earn trust and business.
Failed migration planning tops the list of reasons why cloud projects flop. Transitioning to the cloud is a complex process and requires a detailed plan in order to succeed. The actual migration and plan is where the heavy lifting takes place and this also tends to be the area where most cloud providers appear to add no value. Most of the large cloud providers are more than happy to provision an environment for you based on what you tell them you need but few actually help you plan or provide services to execute the actual migration. Why is this? Well, it’s actually simple – most of the providers in this space were formed or transitioned from pure hosting providers. They are excellent at providing a data center with rack, ping and power but that is where their skills end. They have no background in data center migration, professional services or consulting – the exact skills you require from provider in order to successfully integrate the cloud into your IT strategy.
When you look for your next cloud provider partner make sure they have a background in data center migration and professional services. You need a partner that puts some skin in the game and is there working with you during your transition and is not just a rack, ping and power provider available via an 800 number and charges your credit card monthly.
Being in the consulting industry for many years and partnering with much of our bigger competitors I have participated in a lot of phone calls with the large cloud providers and have seen first hand how they often leave the customer hanging.
Here’s an example: A customer is hosting with a cloud provider and decides they now need to deliver an application through a virtual desktop solution such as Citrix XenDesktop or VMware Horizon. They call the cloud provider and the following conversation typically proceeds – provider, “well when you get the virtual desktop environment requirements please call us back and we will put together a bill of materials for the equipment you will need provisioned.” Client – “huh?” The customer is in need of help architecting, deploying and managing the solution and all the provider can offer is a bill of material based on the customer doing all the research, planning and design. Why was I participating on these phone calls? To fill the exact gap these providers had which was to offer the consulting services to design, deploy and manage the solution the customer was looking for—in essence, deliver a turnkey solution.
Lesson learned, when looking for a cloud provider, make sure they are full-service so when you need to implement new technology that you are unfamiliar with they possess the ability to provide a solution and not throw the burden of design, deploy and management back onto your already overflowing plate.
When transitioning to the cloud it is very rare that all servers and data can be relocated to the cloud. There may be regulation or compliance constraints that require certain servers or data to remain on-site. In these circumstances it is important to have a service provider capable of managing these systems remaining on-site. In many case there will also be other peripheral devices that remain on-site such as load balancers, WAN optimizers, security devices and wireless access points.
If you are truly committed to outsourcing and focusing your staff on strategic initiatives, you must select a provider that offers capabilities to remotely manage these on-site technologies. Also keep in mind that these providers should be able to remotely manage these systems without the need or cost of placing a team of techs on your site. If your provider cannot handle these requests you might best be served by finding a new partner.
Disaster recovery has become a luxury now be afforded by all due to the proliferation and advancement of virtualization and replication software. What was once a costly endeavor and only available to the Fortune 500 is now common place for the smallest of companies. No longer is there a need for duplicate and dedicated hardware, shuffling of tapes and a long and cumbersome restoration process. Recovery point objective (RPO) and recovery time objective (RTO) are becoming archaic terms replaced by hypervisor replication, real-time continuous replication and automated failover.
Your service provider should offer a turnkey, fully managed disaster recovery solution as part of their basic offering. You should not be burdened with figuring it out, implementing it or choosing the software. Nor should you be bothered with having to perform an evaluation of standalone cloud based disaster recovery offerings. Your provider is already managing and familiar with your systems—why should you have to ramp up a separate DRaaS cloud provider on the systems your existing provider already knows?
If your existing cloud-enabled managed hosting provider does not offer a turnkey disaster recovery solution you should not let their gap be your problem. Seek out a full service cloud-enabled managed hosting provider.
The ability to provide and manage disruptive technologies is quickly becoming a decision criterion for enterprises as they select their service provider partners. Some disruptive technologies that are now becoming a bit more common place are mobility, collaboration, social media and analytics. Enterprises need to know their provider is going to be able to offer these disruptive technologies in a timely manner giving them the ability to stay a step ahead of their competition. The key though is not only making these technologies available, but providing them as a managed service because enterprises often lack the skill and expertise to manage cutting edge technologies and prefer to outsource the management thereby enabling them to be an early adopter.
Many traditional, monolithic providers are slow to move due to their cumbersome internal structure and may never be able to deliver a timely portfolio of disruptive technology to their customer base. Often, the smaller, nimbler cloud-enabled managed hosting providers are the ones first to market with these solutions—a win-win for them and their customers.
These five pointers should be considered table stakes—the bare minimum your cloud-enabled managed hosting provider offers. Add to this list other items important to your enterprise and leverage it as a guide when interviewing your next provider to ensure a successful cloud migration project.
By Marc Malizia