January 28, 2021
How to Choose the Right Cloud Platform
We’re likely to see cloud adoption continue to accelerate in the coming months as organizations shift their focus on post-COVID recovery. Gartner predicts cloud investments to rise by 18% in 2021, with cloud spending projected to make up over 14% of the enterprise IT market by 2024. For reference, cloud solutions only accounted for 9% of global IT spending in 2020.
At the same time, increased cloud adoption will likely contribute to a rise in waste, failure, and complexity. In turn, this means organizations will need to also lean on AI and machine learning tools, automation, and the right talent to ensure a smooth cloud transformation as well as long-term success.
In a recent internal survey, we asked our development team what they think is the most important criteria when it comes to selecting a cloud platform. Read on to see their responses and learn more about making this critical decision.
Business Priorities and Costs
Before you start analyzing the different cloud providers and their market share, figure out what you’re hoping to gain by adopting a new cloud computing platform.
What are the company’s business initiatives that are driving this migration?
And, what capabilities will you need to reach your goal? For example, a solution designed to support data science and machine learning projects is going to look different than one used to support a web-based enterprise tool. In addition to the business case, factors like project size, scale, and whether you’re looking for public, private, or hybrid solutions (which are informed by the business case) will come into play here.
Still, you’ll want to start by nailing down what you’re trying to do and what it takes to make that happen. From there, you start looking for the cloud vendors who check all boxes on your “must-have” list. While most major providers offer the same capabilities/services, different factors will influence the implementation process and how much you pay.
Naturally, you’ll want to find the cloud management platform with the most bang for your budget, though price may not be the most important factor if you’re, e.g., trying to improve time to market.
It’s important to note that there’s more to it than monthly subscriptions and spec sheets. 3Pillar’s Henry Martinez advises organizations to also look at “ongoing costs associated with storage, computing, and even the long-term engineering costs of keeping up with new releases and ensuring backward compatibility.”
Francisco Carvajal says that you could potentially skimp on one of the following three areas: quality, time-to-market, price. Which of these categories you fall into depends on where you have some extra flexibility, based on the desired business outcome.
It’s also worth noting that moving to the cloud allows you to move your CapEx to OpEx. The top cloud providers have cost calculators you can use to calculate potential savings before you commit. For example, if cost isn’t a major concern, you might prioritize something like customer service instead. In other words, you’re searching for cloud service providers that make it easy to hit key milestones.
Project Size and Scale
Most cloud providers support many different technologies and integrations and offer plans that cater to companies of all sizes. Depending on the product you’re building, size can have a tremendous influence on how much you can expect to invest in a cloud management platform to achieve the desired outcome.
3Pillar’s Cesar Gutierez says that size is one of the most important considerations organizations should think about before choosing a cloud services provider. “Most cloud providers support many different technologies, so as long as we understand the proportions and needs of the software, then we can decide for the best option to be implemented.”
One of our software engineers, Paul Estrada, recommends looking for providers who offer adjustable rates based on usage. He says,“this will help you plan your budget and make adjustments based on the resources people actually use.”
It’s worth noting that the three main cloud providers offer that “pay what you use” billing model, which is arguably one of the biggest benefits of migrating to the cloud.
Flexible pricing plans are a good option for companies navigating uncertain terrain. This holds true whether they’re startups with untested ideas, brands launching new product lines, or if they’re expanding into new markets. Organizations need to reevaluate needs after rapidly scaling up or down, including any company that deals with wide swings in demand on a routine basis.
Compatibility with Your Technology Stack
Paul Estrada also advises organizations to make sure that the cloud platform they choose is compatible with their existing technology stack, offers a clear path for future upgrades, and is easy for the development team to manage and maintain.
If possible, choose something that’s already familiar to your development team so that they can become experts faster. However, as 3Pillar’s Angel Almada puts it, organizations need to understand that “true cloud leverage won’t come from familiar on-prem knowledge alone.”
Keep in mind; you’ll need to think about everything from data sources and physical infrastructure to cloud services (IaaS, IaC, PaaS, SaaS tools, etc.) and any existing cloud solutions you’re already using.
3Pillar’s Angel Moreno says that you’ll want to look for vendors that have a nearby data center, as it’s critical for ensuring low latency and high speeds.
Ask prospective vendors about availability, response time, capacity, and what kind of support the provider offers.
Examine factors like market share and reputation (think reviews, case studies, and client testimonials) to identify providers with widespread coverage, thus providing the most reliable service to remote teams and customers across a wide range of geographic locations.
Find out what security measures the provider uses to preserve project applications and data (customer data, IP, etc.).
Ultimately, if you’re partnering with one of the major providers like AWS, IBM, or Azure, you can rest assured that things like reliability won’t likely be an issue. However, you’ll still want to do some research to find out which provider has the most experience/success working with companies like yours.
As Javier Trevino puts it, “different cloud providers offer very similar cloud services, but one of the most important aspects is that you’ll want to be sure the selected provider matches the technical skills that are currently available. Plus, the cloud platform should align with the current technical environment.”
He also stressed the importance of evaluating vendors’ non-functional requirements, like security, performance, reliability, and fault tolerance. You’ll want to find a provider that can meet those base-level requirements and serve as the foundation for high-level goals.
3Pillar’s Rodolfo Carmona says, “I consider team knowledge to be an important factor here. Considering that the cloud service provider will likely require you to commit to a contract for some time and you’ll need to make some changes to ensure that your team feels comfortable developing solutions for the platform. Ideally, you’ll want to use a solution that reduces the need to rely on external resources and allows in-house people to grow inside the company.”
It’s also worth mentioning that while cloud platforms tend to provide equivalent service offerings to support most business processes and storage needs, there are a few notable differences when it comes to some of the more innovative use cases like machine learning, AI, and infrastructure for mobile apps.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the top providers and their pros, cons, and target use cases.
- Microsoft Azure. Microsoft Azure is a popular choice among the C-suite crowd as it’s often seen as a natural extension of their existing enterprise computing stack (i.e., it promises easy integration with Office 365 and Teams). Azure is ideal for companies running data centers and offering hybrid cloud solutions that easily integrate with on-premises data centers. Additionally, Azure Machine Learning enables developers to create, test, and deploy their own algorithms.
- AWS. AWS is the market leader in this space, offering a wide range of services, including developer tools, networking, storage, mobile, IoT, security, and more. Amazon offers the most capabilities to developers. However, it’s worth noting that the cost structure can be a bit confusing and AWS is primarily focused on public cloud solutions. In other words, those looking toward hybrid or private cloud solutions that can integrate with your data center may want to seek out an alternative solution.
- Google Cloud. Google is somewhat late to the cloud-provider game and isn’t quite as focused on the enterprise market as AWS and Azure. That said, Google Cloud may be a good choice for organizations working with open source projects. Here, users can build and deploy machine learning models based on Google’s TensorFlow deep learning library. Google Cloud also offers an all-in-one AI platform for machine learning and data science projects.
Watch Out for Vendor Lock-in
There should be a clear and painless path for leaving your cloud provider if the relationship doesn’t work out as planned. Can you opt out? Is it easy? What’s the process like? These are things you’ll need to find out during the initial due diligence stage.
For example, say you initially chose Azure, but a few months later, you discover that AWS makes more sense for that particular use case. If your original contract prevents you from terminating the agreement or using technology from a specific vendor, your cloud provider could become a barrier to acting on future opportunities to improve the customer experience, increase market share or work more efficiently. If you’re using one of the top public cloud vendors (like Azure or AWS), lock-in won’t likely be a problem.
As we transition into 2021, organizations are being forced to make critical decisions about where they invest their IT budget—be it outsourcing software development projects, AI and machine learning applications, or embracing the IoT.
That said, no matter your business goals, industry, or size, digital transformation can’t happen without the cloud.
As such, select the provider that can support your needs—security and compliance requirements, remote work, interconnected data ecosystem, uptime, etc.