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How to choose the right cloud service provider for your organization

A data center comprising of components such as switches, storage systems, servers routers and security devices

If there were a Facebook 10-year challenge for the most pervasive IT trend, cloud services would win hands down.

The cloud services industry has undergone significant changes, and how!

What was labeled as an emerging technology a decade ago, has now grown into a mature $186.4 billion market according to Gartner's predictions and should continue to grow substantially as we can see from Gartner's revenue forecast of public cloud service.

Worldwide public service revenue forecast

  2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
Cloud Business Process Services (BPaaS) 42.6 46.4 50.1 54.1 58.4
Cloud Application Infrastructure Services (PaaS) 11.9 15.0 18.6 22.7 27.3
Cloud Application Services (SaaS) 60.2 73.6 87.2 101.9 117.1
Cloud Management and Security Servicess 8.7 10.5 12.3 14.1 16.1
Cloud System Infrastructure Services (IaaS) 30.0 40.8 52.9 67.4 83.5

BPaaS = business process as a service; IaaS = Infrastructure as a service; Paas = platform as a service; SaaS = software as a service.
Note: Totals may not add up due to rounding.
Source: Gartner (April 2017)

In fact, Brian Nowak of Morgan Stanley said that cloud services would account for 50% of the IT services market by 20201 while Gartner predicts the global IT spend on the cloud to reach $3.76 trillion in 2019.2

What makes cloud services so popular?3

To put it simply, the emergence of cloud services has enabled organizations to cut down on unnecessary expenses while improving their operational excellence. These benefits along with a directive to deliver digital innovation continue to drive more organizations towards the adoption of a cloud strategy. According to Vanson Bourne's report titled "The Business Impact of the Cloud", these are the measurable benefits of cloud technology.

An infographic that explains Vanson Bourne's "The Business Impact of the Cloud"

Some of the lesser-known advantages that most organizations experience when they move to cloud services include:

  • Allows for software updates without any system overhaul. SaaS companies make the latest versions of the applications readily available to their customers. In a cloud model, employees don't have to wait for the upgrades to be rolled out or make any changes to their existing system. They can easily update their applications in just a few clicks.
  • Fosters collaboration among teams. Collaboration tools such as Trello, Asana, and Google Suite bear testimony to the fact that companies prefer to use cloud-based tools to collaborate with different teams across multiple countries and time zones, and to manage the projects in real time. However, the most significant advantage of a cloud-based tool over on-premises tools is its ability to manage projects real time. As companies shift from silo-based to a more collaborative approach, and with more teams working remotely, cloud-based tools make the approach to work more inclusive.
  • Achieves disaster recovery more quickly.4 Business continuity is one of the major concerns that cloud services seem to address well. Over 20% of cloud users claim disaster recovery is achieved in less than 4 hours as compared to only 9% of non-cloud users achieving that same short recovery time. Cloud services are well equipped to take backup of data to ensure its availability in the event of a power outage or a natural calamity and to provide a faster time to data recovery.
  • Flexibility in cost and spend. Unlike the traditional on-premises tools, with cloud, you don't have to invest in the infrastructure or bear the extra cost of office overheads. The pay-as-you-go model makes it an even more attractive option as you pay only for the services and not for the entire infrastructure. Another advantage of cloud-based tools is that you save time on system configurations, server maintenance, and time-consuming installations.

    Cloud solutions also offer a more flexible cost model than traditional systems. Traditional on-premises solutions require you to project and plan for existing and future needs, to order, await delivery, install, configure and deploy new environments or to upgrade the existing environment—all of which can take weeks or more. Conversely, with the pay-as-you-go model, there is greater flexibility and reduced deployment times of hours versus weeks.

    With cloud, capacity can be spun up or increased quickly and easily on demand to support current needs, peak times or unexpected spikes and then be as easily de-provisioned when no longer required. This eliminates the need to try to guess how much capacity you may need and purchase it ahead of time. Even with solid planning, a traditional on-premises solution leaves you at risk of either not having enough capacity or of paying for underutilized resources while you await the anticipated growth. Cloud solutions allow you to handle capacity needs on demand and to only pay for what you need when you need it. Cloud solutions also enable you to shift your CapEx spend to an OpEx spend for more predictability.

First step to the cloud

If you are planning to move to cloud technology, there are two ways you can approach cloud adoption.5

  • You can build your on-premise cloud infrastructure to support your in-house applications. The advantage of an on-premises cloud environment is it gives you better control over your data and offers greater security. However, it can be an expensive solution, as you must purchase hardware, server, software licensing, and resources to build and support infrastructure. It is also a time-consuming process.6
  • Alternatively, you can opt for a cloud service provider that will offer you everything right from network services to infrastructure and applications in the cloud that can be accessed by your organization using network connectivity. Using a cloud service provider is more efficient and economical than having an in-house infrastructure. You can also benefit from the different forms of cloud services such as database management (DaaS), software applications (SaaS), a computing platform to develop and host applications (PaaS), or an entire networking and computing infrastructure (IaaS).

So, you can select any of these services depending upon your organizational needs, which we will discuss later in the blog. Of course, cost-effectiveness, reliability, and security of the data could be a concern for you. However, with a reliable cloud services provider by your side, you can be assured you can deliver a solid solution.

Top 4 Cloud Services Providers

Amazon Web Services

With over 100k customers in more than 190 countries, Amazon Web Services (AWS) offers a low-cost, scalable IT infrastructure to large enterprises, the public sector, and start-ups7. With an annual run rate of $20.4 billion,8 AWS offers the following services:

  • Flexibility. From seamless migration of legacy applications to the cloud to instant availability of new features and services and the choice of running the IT infrastructure in AWS or your own data center, AWS offers flexible solutions to help you manage your services the way you desire. The best part is that it is platform agnostic to operating systems and languages, so you can choose any programming model or development platform of your preference.
  • Cost-effectiveness. There are no upfront costs involved in AWS. It operates on the pay-as-you-go model, so you only pay for what you use whether you use one server or multiple ones. It also allows you to terminate the services whenever you want.
  • Scalability and elasticity. With AWS, you can increase or reduce resources based on demand. The elasticity feature of AWS allows organizations to auto-scale and balance the load according to a situation.

Service model: IaaS, PaaS

IBM Cloud

With over 170 products and services and 60+ data centers globally, IBM Cloud9 offers a full stack cloud platform that can operate on private, public, and hybrid cloud environments. IBM cloud allows you to leverage their advanced data and AI tools to use your data in new ways and to accelerate your move to AI.

IBM continues to invest in its cloud business with acquisitions like Red Hat and supports both an open by design methodology as well as a hybrid cloud approach. Considered an ideal partner for developers, here are a few benefits of IBM Cloud:

  • Access to reusable services. Development teams can save their time on developing and testing software assets by leveraging IBM Cloud's reusable service catalog that houses assets created by others. From big data to security management, IBM Cloud has all types of services that allow organizations to develop and deploy their applications quickly.
  • Supports agile and DevOps approach. With organizations adopting the agile and DevOps practices, IBM cloud fuels the entire approach by providing support in planning, developing, testing, and optimizing the applications that you develop. This leads to faster time to market.
  • Easy migration. With IBM Cloud, it's easy to migrate and manage workloads across different cloud environments and innovate and modernize your apps on public and private cloud platforms. You can also avail yourself of their expertise to make your transition seamless.
  • Polyglot programming. The best part about IBM Cloud is that it allows you to write applications using different programming languages. So, you can mix languages and even leverage a set of runtimes to execute your application in the languages you choose. You can also choose from an array of platforms such as iOS 8, Android, hybrid, or JavaScript to create mobile apps.

Service model: IaaS, PaaS, SaaS

Microsoft Azure

With more than 200 services divided into 18 categories, Microsoft Azure provides cloud services to 95% of the Fortune 500 companies. It also has the highest number of data centers, clocking in at 54 around the world. Here are a few benefits that you can enjoy by using Azure:

  • Hybrid adoption. The best part about Microsoft Azure is that it allows you to design, deploy, and manage your applications on-premises as well as on cloud. You can enjoy the best of both systems. You can also manage your data irrespective of whether it is on-premises or on the cloud.
  • Data security. You can connect your on-premises active directory with Azure's active directory to have a single identity and a single sign-in option for your users. This will prevent unauthorized personnel from accessing your data.
  • Improves productivity. Microsoft Azure helps organizations to reduce their market cycle with more than 100 end-to-end services. It enables you to build native mobile apps and responsive web apps and connect application, data, and devices with Azure logic apps such as Salesforce, Office 365, and Google services.
  • Stringent compliance. Microsoft Azure has established itself as the leading player with strong security and privacy requirements in place from international regulations such as General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), ISO 27001, HIPAA, FedRAMP, SOC 1 and SOC 2, and country-specific compliance rules such as Australia IRAP, UK G-Cloud, and Singapore MTCS.

Service model: IaaS, SaaS, PaaS

Oracle Cloud

Oracle Cloud helps organizations move their on-premises workloads to the cloud in a seamless manner. It offers a complete cloud application suite that enables businesses of all sizes to connect their operations anywhere, anytime from any devices. Here are a few benefits of Oracle Cloud:10 

  • Expedites app migration. Oracle Cloud expedites app migration process by reducing the migration time from 2-3 months to 2-3 weeks or less. Oracle has a set of automated migration tools that migrates the workload with minimum retooling.

  • Centralized hybrid environment. You can easily manage and maintain all your apps in a centralized way. You can choose from an array of options such as application-specific tools like App Mgmt Suite for EBS or cloud-based tools such as Oracle Management Cloud for policy-based resource management, and performance monitoring and analytics for complete visibility across on-premises and cloud deployments.

  • Provisioning application and database. Oracle Cloud addresses the software deployment issue by importing baseline components from the migration tool, or using an updated, pre-packaged version of your application from Oracle's Cloud marketplace. You can deploy the application and database tiers to the cloud by configuring the servers, installing the OS, application, and the database.

Service model: IaaS, SaaS, PaaS, DaaS

Which cloud service provider fits your bill?

Now that you have a high-level understanding of the top 4 cloud service providers, let's move to the second step, which is to determine the right cloud service provider for your organization.

In one of the tech talk videos of Aldridge (a Texas-based IT outsourcing firm), Chad Hiatt, the CIO of the company, advised organizations not to choose a service provider based on their name or reputation, but to choose them based on what you are trying to achieve by moving to the cloud.11 Do you want to run your servers on the cloud or are you looking at a provider who offers end-to-end solutions in one platform, so you don't have to rely on multiple solutions at the same time? Once you are aware of your objective, choose the provider who is a leader in that category. Let's look at when you should choose the aforementioned service providers for your organization.

AWS: You can choose AWS in the following situations:

  • You are not willing to enter into a long-term commitment or pay upfront expenses. The pay-as-you-go model enables you to save cost and pay for as much as you use. If your organization is a start-up, AWS will help you save cost on managing and maintaining your cloud infrastructure.
  • If you want to scale up your IT infrastructure during peak times and scale down during quiet times within minutes. AWS' elasticity feature enables you to scale the infrastructure based on its utility. That's exactly how Beat, a Greece-based car rental app was able to manage their volume of traffic on the app during peak hours and quiet hours. Their app, website, and CRM application run on AWS, which handles its fluctuating application load. By moving to AWS, they can manage over 100 to 10,000 rides in an hour efficiently.12
  • If you are looking for a blockchain solution that can track and verify your transactions with centralized ownership and execute transactions with decentralized ownership, AWS can help you do that efficiently. It helps you to build a scalable blockchain network and ledger application for your business. Some of the businesses that can benefit from this include manufacturing, banking and insurance, and retail.

Azure: Choose Microsoft Azure in the following scenarios:13

  • If your organization belongs to the finance or legal industry where data security and compliance is of paramount importance, then you can choose Microsoft Azure. It is compliant with international and local compliance certifications, which makes it the most secure cloud service provider.
  • If you are planning to use the Internet of Things (IoT) technology, you need cloud services to send and receive sensor data to perform certain tasks. Azure offers a bundle of IoT services such as DocumentDB, HDInsight, and Event hubs for data collection, data analysis, and much more. It strengthens your IoT infrastructure. XTO Energy, a subsidiary of Exxon Mobil was looking for a cloud service provider who could help them monitor and optimize their 90,000 square mile reservoir in western Texas and southeast New Mexico. The harsh, humid climate and the distance between oil wells made it difficult for field technicians to collect data about well conditions. The weak cellular and radio reception made it even more difficult for them. XTO deployed Azure's cloud and IoT solutions to receive real-time analysis and high-resolution data to gain insights about the well operations and future drilling possibilities14.
  • If you have a complex database, Microsoft Azure can help you manage it. It works seamlessly with several systems and stores information easily.

IBM Cloud: Opt for IBM Cloud in the following scenarios:15

  • If you want to migrate your complex legacy architecture to the cloud. IBM Cloud offers flexible infrastructure that supports a wide range of features and manages them through a common API.
  • If you want to deploy your apps and services on a responsive cloud infrastructure, IBM's Cloud Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), offers the control and flexibility you need to support the cloud applications.
  • IBM offers high performing computing (HPC) to organizations that are involved in product development, research, discovery, and breakthrough science. HPC is an end-to-end personalized computing solution tailored to suit the organization's needs. If your organization is in financial services, engineering, and research, or oil and gas industry, IBM Cloud can make your move to the cloud seamless and hassle-free. Halliburton, for example, has moved its large reservoir simulations to the IBM Cloud to streamline its oil and gas business. The company believes that the move to the cloud will help them manage and sustain their infrastructure.16

Oracle: Choose Oracle Cloud in the following situations:17

  • If you are looking for a simplified cloud solution to save costs and time, Oracle Cloud helps organizations to migrate their applications such as ERP, analytics software, and even your existing architecture to the cloud within a few days.
  • If you need more value than just subscription services, Oracle Cloud is not limited to only subscription pricing; it also helps you to save costs on hardware.
  • If you are looking for a flexible solution, Oracle Cloud helps you to create new, disruptive technology for IoT applications quickly and add virtual servers when the demand increases.

The cloud services industry is growing at an incredible rate due to the many advantages it provides like quality development tools and processes, reduced time to deployment, the ability to scale capacity up or down on demand, and flexible cost models with lower TCO. Whatever your drivers are for moving to a cloud services model, there are solid providers with robust solutions to choose from and who can help you reach your business goals.