6 Tips for Choosing the Ideal Cloud MSP
To succeed with a cloud strategy, choose workloads strategically, focus on pain points and ask the right questions.
By Kristin Lewotsky01/02/2020
In the modern computing environment, the software ecosystem of an enterprise can involve anywhere from tens to hundreds of components. IT shops may not have the skills required to manage all of these applications, tools and platforms. Even if they do, they may not have sufficient staffing. Hiring enough hands can be a budget buster, which can be a serious problem for a department persistently labeled a cost center. Businesses increasingly seek a more secure, scalable, better performing and cost-effective approach to IT. They’re finding it with cloud MSPs.
Throughout industry, enterprises have adopted the cloud computing model. The base level approach is to locate some workloads in the public cloud but under in-house management, while maintaining sensitive applications in a private cloud. A transformation is underway, however. Over the next three years, enterprises large and small expect to move to a hybrid cloud model as they evolve from building IT to consuming IT built and managed by others. Cloud MSPs are an essential part of that transition. For success, the process must be strategic.
Consider Your Workloads
Start by auditing applications and platforms across the enterprise. Workloads can be roughly divided into mission-critical workloads that require intensive supervision, sensitive workloads requiring top security and monitoring, niche workloads that require special skills not available in house, and basic computer and support applications like email.
Consider what you have and why you might want to hand it over to a cloud MSP. Talk to staffers to uncover their pain points and what they need in a cloud solution. But don’t forget, not every application belongs in
Determine Your Needs
To truly benefit from cloud deployment, organizations need to think in terms of a hybrid multicloud, finding the best cloud MSP for each type of workload. Mission-critical applications tied to revenue need the utmost reliability, availability and performance. The company website may be mission-critical but can be entrusted to a cloud MSP that supports the appropriate CMS while meeting the required service-level agreements (SLAs) and operations level agreements (OLAs). Applications involving sensitive personal data need a cloud MSP focused on security.
This class of MSP can provide technical expertise and infrastructure, as well as constant monitoring that would be prohibitively expensive for the corporate IT shop. On the other end of the spectrum, a hyperscale cloud provider can probably manage simple, nonsensitive applications like email and office software far more cost-effectively than the in-house team.
Now, the aforementioned requirements come into play:
- What are the requirements in terms of uptime, response time and errors?
- How does that translate into SLAs and OLAs? Consider performance and price, particularly for low-end applications.
- Does the application need to run as fast as possible and as cheaply as possible, or is price paramount and performance negotiable?
- Some workloads can benefit from cloud MSPs that offer specialized services. “A smaller MSP that just focuses on a specific niche or type of application may actually be more effective than your on-staff IT team, especially if that on-staff team is responsible for a whole bunch of things,” says Mike Jung, CEO of Cloud Spectator International. “It’s very hard to be an expert at everything.”
“A smaller MSP that just focuses on a specific niche or type of application may actually be more effective than your on-staff IT team, especially if that on-staff team is responsible for a whole bunch of things.”
Identify Cloud MSP Contenders
Armed with the lists from the previous step, identify five or six cloud MSPs that are matches and begin comparison shopping. It’s important to drill down into the specs. Don’t take performance numbers at face value. Research on the internet or seek third-party validated benchmarks. Remember that just because two clouds offer a seemingly identical option, such as a VM with two CPUs and 4 GB of RAM, doesn’t mean that they will give identical results.
“They can actually sometimes give you drastically different performance,” says Jung. “That’s not just true for size and specs. It’s also true for classes of VMs like compute optimized or storage optimized.” Speaking of optimization, find out whether any efforts will be made to optimize the platform for your particular workloads.
Consider the impact of different deployment options. If you’re going to have a few VMs on a server shared with several other clients, performance might be unpredictable. That may not present a problem for the developer cloud but could be a serious issue for a mission-critical application. Ask about performance consistency but also about measures taken to prevent side channel attacks from one VM to another. Data protection and privacy are essential, especially when personally identifiable information is concerned. Consider whether a dedicated server might be a better choice.
Ask cloud MSPs for details on support coverage—you don’t want to discover in the middle of an incident that night and weekend coverage is only provided through a Twitter account. Get clear answers on response time and whether you will have a dedicated contact. Confirm that the cloud MSP has any certifications required for the workloads involved.
Investigate the specifics of the SLAs. Some agreements might promise 100% but in the fine print only commit to best effort, compensating for downtime by reimbursing the fee. At face value, the strategy sounds positive, but any refund is a pittance compared to the revenue hit from losing an hour of sales. “Look for specific SLAs,” says Jung. “Better yet, look for providers that are willing to craft a custom SLA for you and your business. It’s probably not going to be cheap, but you’ll know exactly what will happen in every scenario and what the true maximum downtime will be. Just their willingness to do it is a pretty good sign.”
Don’t assume that disaster recovery is part of the package. It may only be available on request and may involve an extra fee. That said, ultrafast DR and failover are essential for mission-critical applications but probably not for less time and revenue sensitive applications like application development (developers may not agree).
“Try to blow up your application. As soon as you've got a copy up, push it until you break it because then you know where that is.”
Try Before You Buy
Moving workloads onto the cloud is not a trivial process. It’s particularly tricky when it involves mission-critical or legacy applications. Modernizing the code before migration can help streamline this process. In either case, look for a cloud MSP that offers migration services. Ensure that in-house staff is closely involved with the migration process. Above all, test, test and then test again.
“You can migrate a workload and the results look great, but that’s because no one is using it,” Jung says. “Maybe the second you switch over DNS and traffic, everything goes down, or the app starts running half as fast as you expect. That would be a nightmare.” If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, the engineers say. Jung turns that saying on its head. “Try to blow up your application. As soon as you’ve got a copy up, push it until you break it because then you know where that is.”
APIs can streamline management of the hybrid multicloud. Some cloud MSPs have APIs for billing, pricing, monitoring and management. They can provide effective tools for investigating problems and for controlling cost outlays. If every provider in your hybrid multicloud offers MSP APIs, the job of managing the managers becomes exponentially easier.
Don’t Forget the Future
Refreshing the corporate computing platform is expensive, complex and time-consuming. One of the benefits of the hybrid multicloud is the promise of access to the latest hardware and software. Look for a provider with a roadmap for regular hardware upgrades.
Working with cloud MSPs is something of a given in today’s computing environment. Successfully working with cloud MSPs is not, however. Don’t take numbers at face value. Do your due diligence to ensure that the metrics are accurate. Check online reviews to get as clear a picture as possible of the user experience. And never stop checking your options.
6 Steps For Selecting a Cloud MSP
- Determine what workloads you want to move and why
- Determine what each of those workloads needs from a cloud provider
- Check under the hood
- Take it for a test drive
- Ask about APIs
- Consider the future
Kristin Lewotsky is a freelance technology writer based in Amherst, NH.