What IT leaders should look for in cloud managed services

Choosing the right cloud managed service for your organization requires some introspection. Consider this expert advice before you sign on
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A technologist might feel like a kid in a candy store in today’s cloud environments, but that doesn’t mean they should shop like one.

Pick virtually any platform, however, and the temptation to do so is real. There’s a lot to choose from, and an IT pro’s geek mode can go into overdrive.

Cloud managed services – whether a cloud database, a fully managed container platform, or simply managed infrastructure – streamline things a bit. There’s less picking and choosing to do because by definition, the cloud provider is taking at least some of that off of your plate with a more turnkey solution.

[ Want to brush up your cloud services terms? Read Managed services vs. hosted services vs. cloud services: What’s the difference? ]

But even selecting from among cloud managed services options can be a bit of an embarrassment of riches these days. That’s also complicated by the inherently broad nature of the term; it can mean many different things to many different organizations, as Matt DeCurtis, VP, managed operations at Anexinettold us recently.

4 tips for implementing managed cloud services

That means that the first step in selecting one is defining what cloud managed service means to your organization – and why you’re using it in the first place.

1. Be intentional about your choices

Lots of technology evaluations (and even more sales pitches) naturally focus on capabilities and benefits: Here’s what you can do with this thing. That makes sense, but a holistic approach to managed cloud services should do this in the context of how complex the working environment is, explains Kaushik De, VP, cloud center of excellence, Capgemini Americas.

Enterprises must consider the breadth of their organizational needs when selecting managed cloud services, De says. Too often, these choices are made in isolation, which means they’re not properly accounting for organizational realities – and especially organizational complexity.

“An important word with respect to hybrid cloud and edge architectures generally is ‘intentional,’” says Gordon Haff, technology evangelist, Red Hat. “And this extends to choosing cloud services.”

Clear(er) intention helps reduce the likelihood of acquiring services because they sound good or seem to meet some need – without thinking about the operational realities.

“A given service from a specific public cloud provider may be a perfectly fine choice in isolation,” Haff says, for example. “But you should really be thinking about your choices more holistically. Do you need a given service both in a cloud and on edge nodes? Then you may want a cloud service that can run in a consistent way across those multiple locations.”

[ Want to accelerate application development while reducing cost and complexity? Get the eBook: Modernize your IT with managed cloud services ]

2. Seek flexibility wherever possible

Organizational realities – perhaps especially in larger organizations and government agencies – also usually reflect a persistent need for short- and long-term flexibility. Things change, sometimes in a hurry. While avoiding lock-in has long been top of mind for CIOs, flexibility here also means realistically evaluating your IT portfolio – and knowing which pieces are good fits for a managed cloud service (or cloud, period) and which aren’t.

“When choosing the right cloud managed service provider, make sure they understand your technical estate’s entire economies of scale and the efficiencies that cloud offerings bring to the table,” DeCurtis says.

As DeCurtis told us previously, few enterprises are reducing their on-premises footprint all the way down to network infrastructure and that’s it. “Not everything plays nice when sitting in the cloud,” he points out.

'When choosing the right cloud managed service provider, make sure they understand your technical estate’s entire economies of scale and the efficiencies that cloud offerings bring to the table.'

Select managed cloud services where they make the most sense as part of your overall strategy. Haff notes that for many IT decision-makers, this includes a full spectrum from leaving systems as-is to using a managed cloud service to developing new microservices-based applications in-house. That generally describes the hybrid cloud reality for a lot of large and midsize companies.

“Any organization can virtualize its infrastructure and throw it into the cloud,” DeCurtis says. “Still, you are not gaining any of the advantages of adopting a cloud-first strategy [with that model].”

This is one reason a fully managed container platform (built on top of Kubernetes) can be appealing – it can simplify the implementation and long-term operations of a containerized environment.

“Re-platforming traditional applications that have a direct relationship with an operating system into one that can be elastic and scale within containerized environments is where enterprises have hit their stride and reduced massive costs associated with operational overhead,” DeCurtis notes.

3. Select providers that can meet you where you are – and where you want to go

Especially with fully managed cloud services and/or cloud services that have a consulting or professional services component, you need to make sure that the provider “gets” you.

“Make sure the provider you are working with understands you as a business,” DeCurtis says. “Then, they collaborate with key stakeholders of applications and practice areas to understand the best way to get to your desired outcome.”

Taking this for granted often seeds long-term misses in terms of your business goals for adopting cloud services in the first place. And as we reported previously, mapping business strategy to capabilities is key when evaluating cloud service providers in general.

Of course, capabilities are the start – as in all things IT, delivery and results matter, too.

“Methodology and execution are paramount in managed cloud practices,” DeCurtis says. “Neglecting to identify all aspects can increase spending, scope creep, and frustration.”

[ Read also: 5 things CIOs should know about cloud service providers ]

4. Be clear about the questions that will drive your evaluation

Finally, it’s a good idea to develop your own evaluation criteria – what questions or issues will you focus on as part of your selection process? Like the tips above, this, among other benefits, helps steer away from a “one-cloud-fits-all” mindset.

De from Capgemini Americas shares three examples of the kinds of questions you can and should be asking.

  • What is the business driver? “Enterprises must understand what is driving their need for cloud services – whether it be managing costs, future growth, scalability, or perhaps all of the above,” De says.
  • What are the security protocols? Even within one particular platform, not all environments or services are the same. “Enterprises must evaluate the information that they are putting into the cloud to determine the need for GDPR compliance, regulation, and other security precautions,” De says.
  • How complex is the working environment? As De and Haff explained earlier, organizations must be intentional and include the full scope of their realities and requirements into consideration. Complex is something to account for and plan for – not to duck. “For example, if there is a need for a full-service model, a cloud strategy must include seamless integration between infrastructure, operations, and applications,” De says.

[ What should you know about AI/ML workloads and the cloud? Get the eBook: Top considerations for building a production-ready AI/ML environment. ]

Kevin Casey writes about technology and business for a variety of publications. He won an Azbee Award, given by the American Society of Business Publication Editors, for his InformationWeek.com story, "Are You Too Old For IT?" He's a former community choice honoree in the Small Business Influencer Awards.