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Tips for picking an IaaS provider

Vendors offer a variety of options, from pure-play to managed services

By , Network World
June 06, 2011 12:08 AM ET

Network World - Making the leap to a public cloud infrastructure requires careful planning.

As Gartner analyst Lydia Leong cautions in a recent report, the cloud infrastructure as a service (IaaS) market "is immature, the services are all unique and evolving rapidly, and vendors must be chosen with care."

Six tough questions for your next IAAS vendor

The temptation may be to first look to vendors with which you have a pre-existing relationship, but experts say you want to be sure you ask the right questions.

For example, Post-n-Track, an online healthcare transaction and information exchange based in Wethersfield, Conn., decided to move to cloud computing for scalability and flexibility.

The company found out that its managed services provider, NaviSite, was building up a cloud infrastructure, says Randy Ulloa, vice president of technology at Post-n-Track. "We immediately jumped on that potential and dug into how it was going to achieve its cloud service," he says.

But a good working history with NaviSite didn't make the company a shoo-in for Post-n-Track's cloud business, Ulloa emphasizes. "It wasn't until we understood its physical cloud architecture - the underlying CPU and storage builds and the software and management layers on top - that we could put our minds at ease and decide to take the next step with it," he says.

When moving to IaaS, some IT executives, such as Schumacher Group CIO Doug Menefee, look first to the market leader, Amazon EC2.

While already running 85% of its business processes in the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model, Schumacher only recently ventured into cloud IaaS. The impetus was an internal data center glitch experienced over the Christmas holiday, Menefee says.

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"That was a big wake up call. And recognizing the maturity level of site services like Amazon EC2, we've now decided to leverage external cloud service providers to provide the infrastructure for anything we don't have to put inside our own data centers," he says. "We don't want to be a single point of failure for the organization."

Managed IaaS

To some users, IaaS is about being able to carve out a private space within the public cloud infrastructure. They get similar availability, cost and scalability benefits as they do with pure IaaS, without the security concerns related to sharing infrastructure with others. Others like the idea of cloud IaaS but want some hand-holding rather than the purely self-service model.

Many enterprises, like Post-n-Track, fall into this latter category, as might be expected given IT's comfort level with using outsourcers and hosting providers for management help, says James Staten, principal analyst with Forrester Research.

Managed IaaS comes in three forms, Staten says.

If you're already using an IT outsourcer such as Accenture, Capgemini or IBM, going with that provider for managed IaaS can be the "cleanest, easiest and quickest" option, he says. "It already knows your systems, your applications and what SLAs you care about."

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