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Selecting a Private Cloud Provider


Khali Henderson**Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt from the Digital Issue, “
Profiting From Private Cloud Services ,” which is available for download from Channel Partners Cloud Insights .**

For channel partners  VARs, dealers, agents and integrators  that don’t have the interest or skills to build private clouds, aligning with reliable private cloud service providers is key to success as a cloud partner.

Unlike public cloud services, which are engaged on a more tactical, opportunistic basis, private cloud providers must be selected strategically as a long-term partner for your customer, explained Vic Levinson, president of cloud partner Prime Telecommunications Inc. But with so many companies  from cloud pioneers like Amazon to colo/hosters like Rackspace to telcos like AT&T  now offering private cloud services, how do you know which to choose? Experienced cloud partners like Levinson and others said beyond the basics of a stable data center environment (space, power, connectivity, etc.), there are must-have capabilities that generally fall into the following areas:

Security and Regulatory Compliance. Since security concerns are the primary driver for using private clouds, it only stands to reason that selecting a provider with impeccable security policies, credentials and track record is paramount. That includes support for regulations such as Sarbanes-Oxley, HIPAA and others. “A robust security environment that protects the cloud from the outside world, meeting banking, health care [and] PCI compliance standards and allows for secure access by remote workers, suppliers [and] customers is of the utmost concern in private cloud deployments,” said Dave Wallace, president of Aligned Communications Inc., a telecom and cloud master agency.

Design. When selecting a cloud provider Wallace also recommended finding one that offers pre-sales design resources, rather than just quoting. “Private cloud service providers that get involved in the initial design tend to uncover better or more efficient ways of deploying the cloud initially envisioned,” he said.

Jo Peterson, director of Converged Cloud and Data Services for TeleProviders, a telecom and cloud services broker, agreed. “Private cloud providers should offer architectural assistance, deployment guidance and other best practices that apply to your customer’s cloud,” she said.

Customization. While public clouds are WYSIWYG, private cloud hardware, network and storage infrastructure can be customized according to the needs of the customer to deliver greater performance and control, said Jessica Mayo-Pike, business development leader – Advanced Solutions for IPLogic Inc., a VAR and cloud broker.

“The provider should be flexible and be able to ‘build out’ specifically to the customer’s requirements,” said Gary Jacobs, vice president of channel sales – Southern California for Bridgepointe Technologies, a master agency selling cloud services.

Peterson agreed that the best private cloud environments are highly customizable. Dedicated “bare metal” private cloud customers should be able to choose their own hard drive, core RAM, storage and operating systems, she noted.

Integration. Private clouds don’t operate in a vacuum or they shouldn’t, at any rate. That’s why most partners listed integration services as a key capability for their private cloud providers of choice. Ian Kieninger, CEO of cloud distributor AVANT Communications Inc., asked, “Will the provider … help them integrate with an existing on-prem or public cloud environment if needed?”

Jacobs said this is increasingly important as private cloud customers typically want (or will soon want) a hybrid solution. “It’s important to look for a private cloud services provider that can create and/or integrate a private cloud solution with a managed hosting or colocation solution,” he said.

Management. Private cloud providers should offer management services or the tools for customers to manage their infrastructure themselves. In the latter case, Peterson said that partners and/or customers should be able to manage both the cloud network and servers through an online interface or easy-to-use REST-based APIs. Self-service portals for purchasing and provisioning new services also are desirable, she added.

If you outsource management, don’t forget to consider costs, which can vary greatly among cloud providers from an all-inclusive flat fee to hourly or blocks of time, said Wallace. “We prefer to guide our less cloud-experienced partners and customers toward cloud providers that have all-inclusive infrastructure management so there is not finger-pointing as to [who has] responsibility,” he said.

Service Level Agreements. Reliability and high availability are essential for cloud services, so private cloud providers should offer SLAs to guarantee performance. “When looking at a private cloud provider, customers should ask a lot of the same questions as with a public cloud provider to see what can be guaranteed via SLA,” said Kieninger.

Technical Support. Tech support can fall into two groups proactive (implementation and migration) or reactive (break-fix). In either case, partners said to look for providers that offer both, particularly if this is not a skill set you have in-house. Find out if the provider will support your customer through the migration and afterward, Kieninger said.

Levinson added that it’s important to understand what that level of support entails. “Beyond the written SLA, how accessible will they be with me and my client?” he asked. “If there is a problem, will they be accusatory, indifferent or aloof, or will they proactively try to help resolve the issue? If they are wrong, do they promptly admit it?”

Company & Channel. While the technical competency must be present in a viable private cloud provider, don’t overlook the basics about the company and its channel commitment, partners said.

Bridgepointe’s Jacobs reminded partners to consider longevity and expertise. “I take a look at how long they’ve been in business and doing what they are doing,” he said. “Is a private cloud offering their core business and competency, or is it just another product for them?”

AVANT’s Kieninger added that partners should inquire about a provider’s previous experience with similar deployments or solutions as well as its customer retention rate.

Don’t stop at the company level, take a look at the provider’s personnel, Jacobs said, asking, “What does their technical ‘bench’ look like and what types of certifications do they hold?” Levinson also said to check the tenure of said staff, looking for stability over a “revolving door.”

Of course, your customer’s needs are the priority, but you also need to consider the provider’s ability and/or willingness to support its sales partners. This can be measured in many of the usual ways, including compensation, contract terms, support systems and personnel, etc. In addition, Levinson recommends asking the provider what it does to train its partners and, furthermore, what it does to elevate partners’ roles as trusted advisers for their clients.

Khali Henderson is editor-in-chief of Channel Partners.
Twitter:@khalihenderson
LinkedIn:linkedin.com/in/khalihenderson


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