When choosing a cloud provider, it pays to think small!

When you buy wine, do you go to the big discount store or the local specialty retailer? Chances are you do both, depending on the situation. The big-box store has selection and low prices, but the people who run wine store on the corner can delight you with recommendations you couldn’t find anywhere else.

The same dynamics apply to choosing a cloud service provider. When you think of cloud vendors, there are probably four or five company names that immediately come to mind. But if you Google rankings of cloud vendors according to customer satisfaction or relevance to small businesses, you’ll find quite a different list. There are hundreds of small, regional and specialty infrastructure-as-a-service providers out there. In many cases, they offer value that the giants can’t match. Here are five reasons to consider them.

Customer service – this is probably the number one reason to go with a smaller hosting provider. If you have a problem, you can usually get a person on the phone. Over time, the service provider gets to know you and can offer advice or exclusive discounts. The company just can’t match this personalized service.

Specialty knowledge – You can find apps for just about anything in the marketplace sections of the big cloud companies, but after that you’re pretty much on your own. If struggling with configuration files and troubleshooting Apache error messages isn’t your cup of tea, then look for a service provider that specializes in the task you’re trying to accomplish. Not only do you usually get personal service, but the people are experts in the solutions they support. They’ll get answers fast.

A smile and a handshake – There are several good reasons to choose a vendor in your geographic area. For one thing, government-mandated data protection laws may require it. Local providers also offer a personal touch that call centers can’t match. You can visit their facilities, meet with them to plan for your service needs and get recommendations for local developers or contractors you might need. Many small vendors also offer colocation options and on-site backup and disaster recovery. The technology world where sometimes everything seems to have gone virtual, it’s nice to put a name with a face.

Low cost – This sounds counterintuitive, but the reality is that many specialty providers are cheaper than the cloud giants. That’s particularly true if they specialize in an application like WordPress or Drupal, or in a service like backup. These companies can leverage economies of scale to offer competitive prices, then you get all the other benefits of their specialized knowledge. Shop around; you might be surprised.

Performance – If the primary users of the cloud service are people in your company and/or in your geographic region, you will probably realize better performance with a local vendor. That’s simply the law of physics. The farther electrons have to travel, the longer it takes them to reach their destination. This is particularly important if you plan to use services like cloud storage or if you need to transfer large files, an error-prone process that only gets worse with distance.

IT or business needs?

I found myself recently in conversation with the General Manager of a small size but rapidly growing business. He mentioned three key objectives. First, growth in revenue. Second, being a consulting services-based business, key information being scattered on employee laptops – the company wants to make sure it “owns” the information and third, they have plans of bringing to market a new web-based software application for their clients.

Business needsWho is responsible for the revenue growth? Are they pursuing new business growth or growth in their current client base? How can, or does the company track the efforts and the steps taken by their team to make sure everyone’s pulling in the right direction to reach their growth target? The conversation then directed itself to sales processes and CRMs. What key information was held by their consultants, should be archived, if so, for how long and where? We proceeded onto data storage, archiving, secure access to the network for their consultants, data loss protection, electronic document management solutions etc. Finally, we asked ourselves where should their new web application reside? Cloud or not? Private, public or hybrid? On-premise or off-site? In the case where they should consider a cloud service provider, what should their SLAs be and if not satisfied, what should be their exit strategy?

IT solutions are not to be confused with business needs and corporate objectives! We left off with me having a better understanding of their corporate objectives and what I could do to help them attain them. On their side, they walked away with a much better understanding of which IT solutions were the most susceptible the help them reach their goals.

Charles Tremblay, ESI Account Manager

It’s very important to listen carefully!

I was initially presented a client seeking technical help to perform regular recovery tests in their completely virtualized environment. And a complex environment to say the least with many different very specific CRMs using different databases. Being cautious, I wanted to make sure to meet the client’s expectation before scheduling any professional services. The conversation rapidly turned to business continuity, recovery point and time objectives and not at all around technical help to perform recovery tests.

Taking a step back, we agreed to meet to overlook and understand their business continuity needs and challenges. During the meeting, the conversation widened even more and we discovered that the agility and simplicity allowed by virtualization allowed internal shadow IT to emerge. Business lines were bypassing the IT director and were having the network administrators set up new servers with reserved CPU, memory and storage faster than ever to the point where it was hard to keep track of what was being setup where for what purpose. The conversation was leaning further away from backup & recovery. Or was it? I listened on very carefully.

Listening_Carefully

Suddenly the fog seemed to lift. What applications needed to be recovered in what time? What was the order of priority? What were the dependencies between applications and the services they needed to function? What services needed to be back on line for which applications? Where was the data for every applications? All of this in an environment that was growing very complex. They needed help building their disaster recovery plan. Or did they? I listened on very carefully.

We then learned they already had a remote site, they had already purchased a complete recovery infrastructure, they were to move everything into their new data center and keep the current systems they were operating as their failover site. In short, they had a well thought out disaster recovery plan.

What they needed was someone that was listening carefully and who understood that they were really looking for an experienced team of extra bodies to help them setup the new data center, move the data and applications, test the environment while their own team continued to manage and operate the corporate infrastructure not consultation services for a disaster recovery plan they already had nor technical assistance for tests.

Charles Tremblay, ESI Account manager