How to choose an SPI (SaaS, PaaS, IaaS) service provider, Part One

Welcome to part one of a three part blog series about choosing an SPI provider. Be sure to check back to read part two and part three. In part one, I will be addressing aspects of an SPI provider to take into consideration when choosing one to partner with. In part two, I will delve deeper into a couple of these aspects, as well as giving some recommendations for SPI providers that I believe deliver great value while maintaining performance.

SPI (SaaS, PaaS, IaaS) services are all the rage right now and there is speculation that we will see movement in the range of hundreds of billions of dollars in this sector over the next couple years.. Everything hot in the tech world has some sort of *aaS appended to it and cloud computing has come back in style like it’s 1965, DARPA is the most technologically advanced organization in the world, and we’re going to see a resurgence of IBM and Seven Dwarfs. However, the service industry and cloud computing of today’s generation is obviously of little actual resemblence to the cloud computing of yesteryear’s mainframes and thin-clients. Nonetheless, with all of this craziness going on, how do you, as a consumer or a professional advising your employers and clients, know which service providers to utilize? That is exactly what I’m here to help answer for you. I can’t give you black and white answers, but I hope to put you on the correct track.

Before delving into the list of recommendations, I would like to identify why SPI services have become such a hot commodity. There are many factors, but I want to highlight what I believe to be the most important. We have three major components driving SPI adoption, and that’s automation, agile development, and the DevOps methodology and culture. Systems administrators and engineers are no longer building one server at a time, but they are rolling out clusters of hundreds. Agile development teams are pushing release cycles, not of months, weeks, days, or hours, but of minutes. In addition, both the development and operation teams are automating everything from server provisioning to coffee brewing. This rapid buildup/tear down process would be intensive and cost prohibitive if they were building it on dedicated, in-house hardware. With the ability to provision resources through SPI service providers, initial overhead is minimal and deployments remain nimble.

There are an enormous number of worthwhile SPI service providers operating currently, and most of them are at least minimally competent. There are, however, a few key differentiators I would look for when selecting your partner for an SPI initiative of any type. As with any provider, you want to be able to trust that third-party company retaining your SPI, so vet them as you would your own internal operations. I’ve listed here a number of factors to consider when making this decision.

Personnel: Do they have Aces in their places? Right man, or woman, for the right job? Are their numbers enough to provide 24×7 enterprise class support?
Facilities: Are their facilities conducive to supporting a tier IV data center? Is the building engineered in such a way that they able to physically compartmentalize your your assets?
Infrastructure: Does their current infrastructure have the hardware and necessary network and storage configurations to support the amount of data and traffic you will be sending their way? Does it have a stable power grid? What is the fault tolerance on each requisite system? Does it have redundant (physically and virtually) delivery paths?
Contingency, Best Practices, SOP, and DR: Do they have contingencies built into their SOP for various scenarios, including worst case event? What is their disaster recovery protocol? In worst case scenario, what is their recovery time to minimal operating standards?
ROI (Return on Investment): Bang for buck; is the return on your investment going to be a profitable venture? Also, are you getting what you pay for?
Culture: Does the provider have a culture that cultivates the efficacy that you want reproduced throughout your service contract? Do you trust them to protect that culture and continue to operate as expected?
Obviously, almost all of this is common sense, especially if you work in IT operations, but it’s always nice to have a list you can reference when going through this selection process. Beyond those that are common sense, I would like to address two of these in more detail, ROI and culture.

Check back in parts two and three for more extensive information on SPI ROI and culture, as well as recommendations for SPI providers.

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