When workloads exceed data centre capacity, it’s often a nice problem to have; it means business is booming. But that doesn’t mean it’s feasible to expand your datacentre, or to build a new one, in time to take advantage of the opportunities. It’s the same when the infrastructure is creaking and groaning and threatening to self-destruct; somehow, capital budgets and necessary updates don’t always align.
That’s when using external hosting can save your bacon, not to mention time and money.
The choice of a hosting provider, however, can come back and bite you if you’re not careful. All hosting services are not created equal. Here are some things to consider when making that all-important selection.
First, decide what you require. Do you just need serviced space into which you’ll co-locate your own servers? When looking at the provider, you need to determine whether its facility meets your security needs, and whether it offers sufficient power and networking capacity. Some will also provide fee-based “eyes and hands” services – technicians who perform administration tasks that need a physical presence, under the direction of your staff.
Will you be managing your own servers, or will you want the provider to take care of them? If it’s the latter, does its staff have the necessary certifications and skills?
Maybe you want the provider to supply everything. Then you have to decide whether you need dedicated servers, or if virtual machines (VMs) on shared servers will be okay. Can the provider supply and support the operating systems and databases you want? Does it have the security, backup, disaster recovery, and management capabilities you need, and what does it charge for them? How about patch management?
If offloading a single application is all that’s necessary, maybe you don’t need to go to a hosting provider; perhaps a software-as-a-service (SaaS) provider will suffice. These companies run the hardware, software, and infrastructure, and sell access to it by subscription. The downside can be that SaaS is typically not as configurable as hosted or in-house solutions, so business processes may need to change.
If you move to the cloud, what type of cloud works for you: Public, Private, or Hybrid? Do you need the data centres to be located in Canada, for compliance purposes? Hosting providers such as Rogers, with its 15 data centres across the country, can accommodate this need.
Once you’ve settled on the hosting services that are appropriate, look at vendor support options. Email support, as long as there’s quick turnaround, can be viable, as can phone support, or even live Internet chat. Find out the support hours, and whether there’s some sort of emergency coverage. But if the vendor only offers support forums, it’s not taking the business market seriously. Flee!
It’s worth testing out response times before signing up. Send some test emails to see how quickly the vendor’s support personnel get back to you; ask questions about the service, and its processes. If they treat a potential customer well, that will give you an idea of what to expect if you sign up. Also look for reviews, with the caveat that those on the company’s site may have been, shall we say, curated to make the vendor look good. Try to find impartial third party opinions.
Check out the default service level agreements (SLAs). What uptime does the company claim, and is it transparent about reporting issues? No technology is perfect; what differentiates providers is in how they deal with problems, and how well they communicate with their customers.
Finally, go over the contract carefully. You may need to negotiate terms, or strike unacceptable clauses. Both IT and Legal should be involved here along with business leaders; what is perfectly normal on one side may be a huge red flag for the other group.
As you have seen, selecting your hosting provider can be a tedious process, but done right, it can lead to a successful partnership for both parties. Take the time to do it right.