When exploring cloud-based services, I believe there are three major areas that companies should focus on. We all hear about two of them all the time: features and price! Pretty obvious, right? Does the service do what I need it to do functionally and how much does it cost? But there is a third area that is equally, if not more important than features and price: service attributes!
Now you might ask, "What the heck are service attributes and why are they so important?" Well, let me use a car metaphor here: Remember when Mercedes Benz was considered the top car to get? But it always seemed to break down. Then along came Lexus, delivering the same level of comfort and features AND they never broke down. People started asking, "Now why would I get a car that breaks down all the time?" Cloud services are very much the same. They can perform the required function, but if the service is frequently "down" or has continual outages, can your company truly depend on it to deliver business-critical functionality?
Besides features and function, cloud services have other attributes that can significantly impact how useful they will be to your company. Reliability is just one of those attributes. In fact, I believe there are seven (7) key cloud provider service attributes that companies must pay attention to when evaluating a cloud service provider:
We've already covered the first attribute: Reliability, which is the probability of a service going down or having an outage. Unfortunately, it is easier "said" than "done" to keep a cloud service running 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. There are many factors that contribute to reliability; some of which are control of the infrastructure that the service is running on and redundancy architectures implemented. If, for example, the service provider doesn't actually own the underlying infrastructure (as is the case with DropBox), then reliability is not even controlled by the service provider. The service's reliability is now dependent on a longer chain of sub-vendors, which can significantly decrease reliability.
The second key attribute is Availability. Availability is related to reliability in that it measures how long an outage lasts in addition to how often an outage occurs. So a service provider with fewer outages but those outages last longer could have the same availability as a service provider with more outages but that are shorter in duration. What impacts availability? Again, one of the highest factors that impacts availability is whether the service provider owns the infrastructure. Since having a long chain of sub-vendors will increase the time it takes to "resolve issues," thus increasing the downtime of each outage event, ideally you want a service provider that has a high level of Reliability AND Availability.
The third key attribute is Security. Security, much like reliability is NOT measured by the strongest link in the chain, but by the weakest link. In other words, you can have an air tight data center, but if you transfer content "insecurely" over the connections between the data center and the client's location or if the client's security is limited or basic, then the level of security for the whole system is equal to the weakest part of the system. For most cloud service providers, physical data center security is strong. That's typically not where the breach will happen. Cyber security is a whole new ball game, and remains today one of the weakest links in the system. Cloud service providers must be continuously vigilant to keep monitoring for cyber-attacks and continually updating their security "firewalls." A weak area for many cloud service providers is client-side security. Many service providers depend on only single factor authentication for clients: a password. This is extremely weak from a security point of view. A hacker needs only to get a user's login credentials and they, proverbially speaking, "have the keys to the kingdom." Multi-factor authentication is a must for businesses and enterprises that want to be "safe" rather than "sorry" and on the hook for thousands of dollars. PanTerra Networks implements multi-factor authentication, two-fold, by default.
Have I hooked you yet? Well, stay tuned for my next post to really see where the rubber meets the road!