6 Questions to Ask Your Cloud Consultant

The cloud is an exciting technology that has dramatically changed how we think about storage, compute and networking.  Yet, with these advances come new challenges since the technology also makes us re-think how IT is implemented, and this can be particularly problematic when migrating legacy applications to cloud infrastructure.

For many customers, the journey to the cloud starts with a conversation with an expert, a cloud consultant.  These experts are typically deeply knowledgeable in existing IT technologies and the cloud.  Their knowledge should extend beyond the technology and incorporate expertise in your industry.  Here are some questions that you might want to ask your cloud expert:

1. How can you integrate my existing systems with the cloud?  Will there be seamless communication between the data centers and the cloud?

This question is particularly important when it comes to legacy applications.  Many cloud initiatives revolve around new applications, but traditional applications should not be overlooked.  Just like the cloud can enhance next generation applications, it can also benefit traditional environments environments.  However, not all applications will be equally cost-effective in the cloud and your consultant should help guide you.

2. What analytic capabilities can I access?

As you drive data to the cloud, you need to understand how you can maintain visibility into your data and key trends.  For example, if your bill suddenly doubles in a month, it is vital to understand why.  Cloud providers can provide some basic reporting, but it is often beneficial to have a third solutions.

3. How do I manage security?  Are there security guarantees?

Security is a fundamental challenge in all of IT, and moving data to the cloud is no exception.  To make matters worse, many industries have strict security requirements that may prevent cloud adoption.  Your consultant should help guide you on security best practices both for the cloud in general and your industry in particular.  As part of the same conversation, he/she should also advise on the right tools to use to manage security, to ascertain when a breach has occurred and best practices on how to respond to an event.

4. Where can I access my data?/Where are the provider’s centers (what country and what are their laws regarding cloud storage?)

Data sovereignty is a big topic these days and unfortunately, different countries may have very different laws.  If you are dealing with customers in only one country then this is somewhat simplified, but you still need to decide in which cloud data center your data should reside.  For example, Amazon offers 5 availability zones in the US and Canada.

If you are dealing with data that spans countries then you need to be careful to be sure that your data movement adheres to local regulations.  For example, the EU Data Protection Directive mandates that “personal data can only be transferred to countries outside the EU and the EEA when an adequate level of protection is guaranteed.” (source) The requirement of “adequate level of protection” may be very different from your current policies and procedures, and thus transferring information between the EU and another country could be in violation of this law.

When thinking through this data sovereignty question, work with an expert who can assess your privacy policies and methods and help you understand how it maps to other countries legal requirements.

5. Based on my industry and technology, is there a cloud service provider that is best for me?

While all cloud providers deliver a baseline service (virtual machines, storage and networking), there are many nuances in terms of individual features and guarantees.  Your choice of cloud provider needs to incorporate more than just a price analysis.  For example, if you are a government customer, aim to understand which provider offers a solution that most aligns with your unique regulatory environment.  As an alternative, if you have a large Oracle instance, evaluate your cloud provider in the context of who provides the most consistent and reliable Oracle support.

An established cloud consultant will typically bring deep knowledge in this area and help you rapidly ascertain which solution would be best for your business.

6. What are your backup and disaster recovery strategies?

Unplanned outages due to hardware, human or logical errors can happen to anyone at any time, and data protection is vital to enable recovery.  Just because you move to the cloud does not remove the burden of having a consistent and reliable recovery strategy.

Cloud protection strategies can vary widely from multi-zone protection to intra-zone protection and from snapshots to fully offline copies.  As a prospective cloud user, you need to think carefully about the right strategy that aligns with your business.  For example, native cloud snapshots can be an interesting option, but what if you need to retain your data for months or even years?  Cloud snapshots are managed and control by the cloud use interface and so what happens if a hacker gets access to your cloud console?  Clearly, the challenges can be significant and a trusted and knowledgeable consultant can you help you better understand the variety of options and the trade-offs between each.

The cloud provides an exciting new opportunity to rethink how we manage and operate IT infrastructure.  However, with this new paradigm comes new challenges that are different from on-premises approaches.  Hiring a consultant to guide you on your journey can be very beneficial.