How To Choose A Cloud Service Provider

Introduction

A cloud service provider is a third-party company that provides computing cloud services for other businesses and individuals. The top 3 public cloud service providers are AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud with 31%, 20%, and 7% respectively. Besides these top cloud service providers, there are dozens more cloud service providers. So, how do you know which cloud service provider is the best cloud service provider for you?

In this article, I will discuss some points that may help you decide the right cloud service provider for you. If you are not familiar with top cloud service providers, please read What is a Cloud Service Provider.

Cloud Service Provider

For starters, for those who are just planning to migrate to a public cloud, it is difficult to figure out which cloud service provider is the best option for them. In this article, I will try to help you figure out how to find out which cloud is best for you and what kind of research you need to do before you move to a cloud.

There are three types of clouds – public, private, and hybrid. A public cloud is when it is hosted and managed by a cloud service provider and available to the public. The most popular public clouds (or cloud companies) are Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud. Here is a list of Top 10 Cloud Service Providers in 2021

A private cloud is when the cloud hardware and services are leased from a cloud service provider but hosted on-premises of a company. For example, you can get Azure stack and host Azure hardware within your company’s network. This type of cloud is available to private networks only. This is good for companies that do not want to put their data on public clouds.

The third type of cloud is hybrid cloud, which is a combination of both, public and private clouds. The reason you may need a hybrid cloud that some of the services and apps you may want to deploy in the public cloud and some you may want to deploy in a private cloud.

So, how do you know which cloud service provider is best for you? Here are some of the points to consider when choosing a cloud service provider.

  1. Cloud service type
  2. Capabilities and product offerings
  3. Innovative
  4. Technical expertise
  5. Cost
  6. Security and compliance
  7. Regions and zones availability
  8. Multi-cloud approach
  9. Hybrid cloud
  10. Specialized cloud services

1. Cloud service type

The first thing you need to ask yourself is, what type of cloud do you need. As I mentioned earlier, there are three types of clouds, public, private, and hybrid. Which type of cloud are you looking for? Unless you are a big company, you are probably looking for a public cloud. A large enterprise often needs a multi-cloud and hybrid cloud approach that I discuss later in this article.

There are three types of cloud services, IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS. As you saw earlier, you need to figure out what your needs are. Not every business needs all these services, and each cloud provider has its pros and cons. For example, you may find AWS IaaS services better than Azure but Azure PaaS services better than AWS.

Once you know what type of cloud you need, you can then look at various cloud service providers and see which suits you the best.

For example, Azure offers 100s of services. You need to make sure that the service type you are looking for is not only available but also not costlier than other providers.

2. Capabilities and Product Offerings

Each cloud service provider has its top offerings and some OK offerings. Some products and capabilities are better on one cloud service provider over another. You have to do your research and see which cloud service provider suits you the best.

Both AWS and Azure are the most complete cloud providers and have the majority of the same capabilities and product offerings. But there are some products that are better on one cloud service provider than the other. For example, your applications use SQL Server and you want to take advantage of intelligent cloud and database. Azure SQL may be the better option for you that is available in the Azure cloud-only. Another example is, if you want to use IBM Watson, that service may only be available on the IBM cloud. Similarly, if your company uses Google products, for you Google Cloud may be the better option.

There are some specialized cloud services that are not available on other clouds. For example, Microsoft Cognitive Services is its own kind of AI/ML offering that others don’t offer. AWS and Google are trying to build them up but it's not even close. IBM Watson service is not available on other cloud providers.  AWS Alexa service is available on AWS cloud-only. Microsoft Graph is for Azure customers only and so on. Google cloud has some services that are not available on other clouds.

Besides some common cloud services, each cloud provider also offers some specialized services. For example, Azure offers Azure CosmosDB, Cognitive Services, Windows Virtual Desktop, and Azure SQL Database, and Azure Blockchain service that is available in Azure only. If you want to try to get those services on AWS or other clouds, they probably will not be available. However, there may be similar offerings from other cloud providers. You just have to make sure the service you are looking for is offered by the cloud provider you choose.

3. Your Experience and Expertise

The key decision of selecting a cloud service provider is made based on your existing team’s experience and expertise. And it may not be just one cloud. It can be multiple. As a matter of fact, most fortune 500 companies use more than one cloud service provider. Large corporations use clouds based on their offerings.

However, if you are a Microsoft shop and your needs are SQL Server, Windows, .NET, and Office then you are better off looking at Azure cloud. If you already have existing Windows, SQL Server, and other product licenses, you can even use your existing licenses in the Azure cloud to reduce your licensing costs.

4. Cost

Cost is probably the most important factor most businesses move to a cloud. Depending on your need for products and services, the cost may vary from cloud to cloud. While all top three clouds, AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud are extremely competitive and their pricing is neck to neck, there are some products that may vary from cloud to cloud. For example, you may find the cost of sending bulk emails on AWS is much cheaper than Azure.

People automatically assume that moving a cloud is going to be cheaper, but this is not always the case. If you do not plan it right and do not have a team of experts, your cloud services may end up costing more than on-premises. A perfect example is, one of our enterprise clients have terabytes of data on-premises and their customers access the data and files frequently. When they migrated their application to the cloud, cost went up 500% and mostly because of the data upload and download bandwidth costs. Prior to the cloud, they had their hosting and leased lines and the data bandwidth was not a factor at all.

Here is a must-watch video on designing and architecting scalable cloud systems and save costs and how Netflix does it.

5. Security and Compliance

Security and compliances are other reasons people choose different public cloud service providers. Both AWS and Azure provide most of the security services but there may be specific security need you may have that is supported by one provider and not on another. Also, while security options may be available, but it does not mean it is enabled.

While AWS and Azure seem to have most of the common compliance certifications, there may be some need for compliance that one cloud provider may not offer. You need to find out your compliance needs and make sure your cloud service providers offer what you need.

6. Support and Maintenance

Each cloud service provider has a different support and maintenance contract. You will have to look at your needs and compare which provider suits you better.

Cloud service providers have different plans. You have to ask yourself what kind of support you need, what the cost will be, and see which support plan works for you.

Besides top cloud service providers, there are reseller cloud service providers that repackage Azure, AWS, and Google Cloud and adds their own managed services. These cloud providers are called managed cloud service providers. These are good options for businesses that do not have technical staff and cloud capabilities. By using a managed cloud service provider, you pay a monthly fee for managing your cloud services.

7. Location

Top cloud service providers have more physical and logical locations than others. Physical locations are divided into regions. Microsoft’s Azure is available in more locations than any other cloud but AWS is not too far. Google Cloud is getting there. Having more locations is not a deal-breaker but if you are looking for a local data center, you may want to check it out.

 

AWS

Azure

Google Cloud

Regions

25

54

24

Availability Zones

81

140

73

8. Multi-Cloud

AWS and Azure are two complete clouds that provide almost everything a business needs in the cloud. While both public cloud services have most of the services, they may differ in some services. Most mid to large enterprises adopt a multi-cloud and hybrid cloud approach. That means, not only do they use Azure and AWS, they also use Google, IBM, and even other less know public clouds for different services. For example, Google Cloud may offer better document services and IBM cloud may offer some specialized machine learning services. One of the biggest factors of using a multi-cloud approach is the cost. If you don’t plan properly, your cloud services may cost you more than you can imagine. One cloud may offer cheaper file storage while another may offer cheaper bulk email service. One cloud may offer cheaper virtual machines while the other may offer cheaper native cloud resources. One cloud may offer cheaper services in one area and zone while the other may be costlier.

To find the best public cloud service for your business, your architects must evaluate business needs, review costs, availability zones and regions, support, and other services.

9. Hybrid Cloud

Hybrid cloud is often used to save costs. Some services on the public cloud may be much costlier compared to running on-premises or using other specialized cloud services. For example, a scalable live streaming service may be much cheaper than running on Azure or AWS.

One thing we should also keep in mind that some services are much cheaper on-premises than cloud. If you have a large data storage that is needed as a backup for legal purposes, it doesn’t make sense to store them on a public cloud that is much costlier compared to local storage with a backup. Here is an example. Legally, healthcare documents cannot be destroyed for so many years and businesses need these documents for legal audit purposes, just in case. For this case, it doesn’t make sense to buy cloud storage and pay monthly unless you do not have an in-house IT team.

10. Choose Specialized Cloud Providers

As I said earlier, some services are so specialized that they are either not available on public clouds or they are too costly. Here are some of the specialized services that are much cheaper and better than popular public clouds.

CDN (Content Delivery Network) is a service that provides faster services to content delivery. You want to use a CDN when you have a ton of content download (images, files, videos, photos) or traffic downloading some files.

Live Streaming and Video streaming services we used on Azure and AWS were much costlier.

There are much cheaper Word Press hosting services compare to when you host a Word press website on Azure or AWS.

You can find much cheaper bulk email services than using Azure or AWS.

The Verdict

So, what is the verdict? Which public cloud service provider is the best cloud service provider for me between Azure, AWS, and Google cloud? The answer is not straightforward. It all depends on your business needs and other factors such as your teams’ expertise, cloud service type, and more. If you are a small company, you may get away with using just one of the public cloud service providers but if you are a mid-sized or large enterprise, the ideal solution will probably be a multi-cloud service provider and even have hybrid cloud options. That is how can save the most money and be cost-effective.

Summary

In this article, we learned about cloud service providers and understood what a cloud service provider is and who is the top cloud service provider.  We also learned about how to choose the right cloud provider for your business.