Neil Sedaka obviously wasn’t singing about changing cloud service providers — but he could have been. While the cloud is all about flexibility and agility, it’s not that easy to switch from one service to another. You need to plan for this possibility up front, and include it in your cloud strategy.
In our last post, we discussed the importance of a strategic approach to cloud adoption. It’s important to analyze the long-term costs of cloud usage, choose the right applications and services, and ensure that you have fast, highly reliable Internet connectivity.
But what if — despite all your careful planning and analysis — you wind up with the wrong cloud service? Or the service provider goes out of business or gets bought? Or the service changes such that it no longer meets your needs? Or costs go up dramatically?
Cloud services are designed using virtualization and software-defined technologies that help to minimize dependence on the underlying IT infrastructure. However, no two IT environments are exactly alike, and problems arise when you try to move an application from one place to another.
The more you use the cloud service, the more difficult it is to migrate. You may wind up with dozens of users on a particular application, and many gigabytes of data associated with it. It’s going to take time and money to move all that data and all of those user accounts. Users will have to be trained, and business processes may have to be modified. It’s going to be disruptive.
And, let’s be honest, cloud service providers don’t want to make it too easy to migrate. If they did, their services would quickly become commodities with adoption driven primarily by price.
Given all of that, how can you protect your business?
- Read the service provider’s agreement. Most of us have gotten used to clicking “I agree” without understanding what we’re agreeing to. Are you committing to a particular length of service? How many days’ notice are required to cancel? What is the provider’s service level agreement (SLA)? What is your recourse if the SLA isn’t met?
- For mission-critical applications and services, the selection process shouldn’t be left to end-users or the IT department. Executive management needs to consider whether the service aligns with long-term goals. Legal should review the agreement for any red flags that could spell trouble down the road, and advocate for better terms.
- Regularly review the service provider’s performance against the SLA. Don’t wait until issues become so critical that you’re forced to make an emergency decision. Address problems early and often, giving the service provider an opportunity to correct them. Executive management should be prepared to escalate any major issues.
- Know when the contract is up for renewal and decide what you’re going to do. Are you going to stay with the provider, cancel or try to renegotiate terms? If you decide to renegotiate, executive management and legal should be involved in the process.
- Develop a continuity of operations plan that accounts for changing service providers. Like a disaster recovery plan, this should let everyone involved know what they need to do in order to minimize business disruption.
Your relationship with your cloud service provider isn’t marriage or even a love affair. It’s a business commitment with technical, financial and legal consequences. The day you start thinking about breaking up is the day you enter into the relationship, taking appropriate steps so you can sever ties with minimal business impact.