12 questions to ask your next cloud computing provider

Tips on how to evaluate different cloud computing providers

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7. When you do your cloud ROI calculation, do you include the cost of buying new servers every three years or so and your annual software maintenance and licensing contracts?

When you set out to justify your cloud computing decision financially, it is easy to forget that in the physical world you need to periodically replace servers and update their applications with new licenses, things that might be included in the price of your cloud computing bill. "A restaurant that I am working with has 120 Exchange mailboxes," says Jamie Barmach, the President of JEB and Co., a network and services consultancy based in Chandler, Ariz. "We got a three year break-even point for their move to Google Apps, and this doesn't include ongoing Exchange server and software maintenance and upgrades, too." That return on investment was what won his client over to the cloud.

8. Can you automatically provision new servers with your provider or must you manually intervene to spin up or down a server based on changing demands?

The CTO of Town and Country, Mo.-based cloud hosting provider Savvis Bryan Doerr talks about how automation can play a critical role in how secure a cloud can be. "We can automatically provision stuff quickly, but what we can't do is make decisions quickly. How long it will take me to add capacity to this app? How long to recognize a failure and respond? Now that we have all this infrastructure virtualized, and automated these changes, we need to automate the decision making too. We need to close the loop from sense to decision. Virtualization has freed us from manually patching cables and setting up racks of equipment. We have to make these decisions in advance, define them in terms of policy, and then express those in terms of guides for our provisioning systems. The trick is to figure out how to help customers get down the road." Products such as Racemi's DynaCenter and Novell's Platespin are just two of the many automation tools available for these sorts of tasks.

Karen Rhodes, a senior sales engineer of Layered Technologies in Plano, Tex., says, "PlateSpin can be used to migrate any physical server to a variety of virtual environments including ESX, Xen Center, Sun and HyperV. You don't have to tie yourself to any one particular vendor and it is very robust and mature technology." Many of these technologies can also be used to convert virtual machines into physical ones, which are useful for debugging operating system issues.


Novell's Platespin series of tools can orchestrate bringing up new VM instances when workloads change.

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