Tips for Test Driving a Cloud Service

By Seth Fox, NetApp

Are you in the process of evaluating a cloud service? IDC forecasts that over half of all midsize firms in the United States will use cloud capabilities by the end of 2012 ¹, and the outlook for larger enterprises is similarly bullish. But before signing up for a cloud service, consider taking a test drive, just as you would when buying a car. Many cloud service providers offer the option of a free evaluation period, and you can use this as an opportunity to try out the features, performance, and support capabilities they provide.

With that in mind, here are a few tips for creating a test plan to optimize the trial period and speed your selection process.

Test Under Normal Driving Conditions
Good use cases will mimic your internal processes and simulate what your IT staff and end users do on a routine basis. You want the core capabilities to be robust and easy to use. Any trouble you experience when testing these common capabilities will be multiplied many times over once a service is in daily use. For example, try to provision and deprovision the service repeatedly. If an API is supported, write programmatic use cases to test this functionality as well as other frequently used features, such as billing, management and monitoring, and anomaly remediation.

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Account management should be robust and simple (unless you need to integrate with your own authentication system). Check to see that you can easily assign permissions and limit access to certain features and resources.

You also want to test any self-service workflows designed for power users, even if you don’t plan to provide those capabilities immediately. For example, a software development group may want to control their own storage, scale up or down in real time, or spawn snapshot copies for development and testing.

Take It Out on the Freeway
Performance is an area in which two providers may both be enterprise class yet deliver significantly different results because of different service locations or underlying system configurations. In order to test which provider is the best fit for your enterprise, your use cases should include checks for network connectivity, latency, and responsiveness.

Be sure to also test the “safety features,” those high-availability and reliability capabilities required to support your service-level agreement (SLA), such as backup and recovery and disaster recovery. Vulnerabilities in these areas may reveal a service provider that doesn’t pass the crash test.

Try to simulate multiple situations in which you might need different levels of support responses. You may need to deliberately cause a server outage or open an incident request and see how quickly the support team responds. Slow response, a support organization that isn’t knowledgeable, and situations that require your own IT team to follow up are red flags that not only indicate poor customer support, but may also reveal a provider that is not truly able to meet your high-availability SLA.

Throughout the trial period, regularly check for any unexpected changes within the user interface and platform. Unannounced changes are evidence of immature change controls and, like a persistent rattle in a new car, may continue to aggravate you long after you make your purchase.

Don’t Forget the Paperwork
After your test drive, examine the network bandwidth, system utilization, and consumption reports for clarity and ease of use. Look for nice-to-have features such as dashboards and the ability to analyze trends and predict future utilization. A good service provider will also provide a simple, easy-to-read billing statement so that you don’t have to devote extra time to managing your use of the service, which can be a significant hidden cost.

Assuming you’ve already done your research, the trial period should be the final step in your selection process. To make it easy to get started, NetApp has developed a global network of service provider partners that offer a wide range of “as-a-service” offerings, including desktop, storage, backup, disaster recovery, and virtual infrastructure. Learn more about our partners' cloud service offerings and create a test plan for your own evaluation.

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¹ IDC Worldwide SMB 2012 Predictions: Shifting Priorities, Opportunities, and Challenges as SMB Spending Exceeds $500 Billion by Ray Boggs, IDC #233916, May 2012

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