12 questions to ask your next cloud computing provider

Tips on how to evaluate different cloud computing providers

If you are interested in getting started with cloud computing – assembling a series of virtual servers for your enterprise applications that run offsite on a provider's data center – here are questions that might be useful as you proceed to evaluate different providers.

We use Amazon's Web Services, a hosted VMware provider called Terremark, and Cloudshare, where you can host up to three virtual servers completely for free, as examples to show you how the major providers can address each of these questions.

1. What types of remote connections are available to your cloud resources?

Getting your cloud-based servers set up with data and applications usually involves making some sort of remote connection to move content from your enterprise network or desktop to the virtual instance of your server. There are at least three different ways, and chances are you might need all three for doing different tasks, such as populating a database or Web server, managing your Windows server with the graphical Microsoft tools such as Server Manager, or running a virtual private network between your desktop and the cloud. So look at how your provider handles VPNs (some may use browser-based tools such as Cisco's AnyConnect VPN client), Remote Desktop Connection software from Microsoft, the Secure Shell (SSH) terminal session, or file transfer protocols (FTP) to remotely control and transfer information to your cloud-based server.

Cisco's AnyConnect VPN is one example of a browser-based VPN client that several cloud providers use.

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