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Before You Choose a Cloud Computing Vendor: 8 Questions

By Kevin Fogarty, CIO
April 27, 2010 03:04 PM ET

CIO - There are few ways a CIO can look better than by walking in to the CEO's office to offer a sophisticated technology service that answers a desperate business need without requiring large capital expenses or delays before implementation.

"Flip the switch and there's the extra capacity. Pay for what you use and shut it off again," says Steven Peltzman, CIO of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.

Not every cloud provider can do that, of course. Some don't offer the right kind of service. Infrastructure as a service providers such as Amazon Web Services require too much work up front to suit a relatively small IT project.

Other vendors don't offer the right kind of security - the kind a CIO gets from knowing that new cloud provider is a partner to be relied on, not one that will disappear or fail after the CIO talked a large portion of the company into relying on it.

Faced with a project list greater than his budget, MoMA's Peltzman looked into various cloud services as ways to extend MoMA's capacity in specific ways at specific times. Broad-spectrum IaaS services such as Amazon's EC3 had plenty of capacity, but the startup took too long, he says. SaaS providers such as's online ERP were too function-specific, he adds. Instead, he picked a service from Cloudshare that allowed him to create virtual workgroup environments at will, on Cloudshare's network.

How to Negotiate a Better Cloud Computing Contract

How do you find the right cloud provider? There's not a consistent checklist either small or large companies can go through to make the selection, according to Bernard Golden, CEO of cloud consulting firm HyperStratus and blogger.

"A manufacturing company isn't going to have the same checklist as a service company or retailer," Golden says. "They're too different. But there is a consistent set of things to look at. Some of them are specific to cloud providers; a lot of them are the same kinds of things you had to look at in outsourcing or any other service provider contract."

1. How responsive is the cloud company? "How fast do they call you back?" asks James McKee, president of United Resource Systems, medical-debt collection company based in Lakewood, Colo. "It doesn't tell you everything, but I like to know how important I am to them and how responsive they are. My clients demand that responsiveness from me; I demand it from my providers."

Some providers may be more responsive at the beginning of a relationship than later, so checking with other customers on that point is important as well, Golden says.

2. How transparent is the cloud service? "There's a lot of mystery in clouds," according to Chris Wolf, analyst with the Burton Group. There's no need to understand the underlying infrastructure and the company's plans to upgrade or reinforce it if you're just using Google for Gmail. But any company hiring a provider for important business functions deserves to know what kind of technology -- and secondary or tertiary service providers -- actually makes up the cloud and how reliable it is.

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