Since the introduction of client/server architecture in the early 1980s, enterprise computing has only become more complicated. Because of this, enterprise applications are incredibly hard to showcase during a software demonstration to a potential prospect or customer. With a constantly evolving product and large sales force, it becomes even more difficult to guarantee that your team can show the same world class solution demo–every time–several times per month.
The increase in complexity and sheer volume can make showcasing your software on your laptop or in-house lab nearly impossible. And giving customers access to your software during an evaluation–without traveling or installing the software on-site–is equally as challenging. Due to these forces, software vendors are increasingly leveraging cloud computing to resolve their dilemma.
This shift to cloud computing means the market is flush with cloud providers, and of course, a lot of hype. With so many options to choose from, it becomes even more important to understand your requirements and find the provider that best suits your needs.
You might be surprised by how many cloud providers have a hands-off approach to partnering with customers—so I wanted to arm you with some of the successful habits you can actively employ when choosing the right cloud provider for your software demo and evaluation needs.
1. Name Your Requirements
The following is a list of things that nearly all of my customers need to be able to do:
- Empower an end user community to use the service on their own.
- Take snapshots and clone VMs to share between users.
- Upload existing internal VMs.
- Give external access to customers, partners, etc.
- Give access to a global user community.
- Have Fort Knox security and approval from the IT Security team.
- Maintain visibility over activity, usage, and cost.
Once you have a basic grasp on requirements, you have a variety of vendors to investigate, and decide which providers are worth trying.
2. Set the Baseline: Compatibility and Cost
When you speak with the vendor, you will want to determine the following:
Can my application run on your cloud?
Most companies transitioning to the cloud for the first time need to ask this simple question: Is the vendor a technical fit for our needs? Figuring out technical feasibility is your top priority. Some questions to consider when assessing this are: How do I get my application into your cloud? Can I configure the cloud provider’s VMs and network topology to work with my application?
How much is it going to cost?
There are several providers to choose from and everyone is a little different, supporting slightly different use cases. Understanding how each vendor charges is very important. Some questions to ask are: Do my VMs need to run all the time or can I suspend them (and thus not be charged for them)? Does the cloud provider charge to the second, minute, or to the hour? What is included in the price (storage, bandwidth, IP addresses, networks)? Understanding the pricing as your environment scales is also must, as you don’t want to be caught with unexpected costs down the road.
Creating a list of technical requirements will help you assign value to your “must have” features for your environment. This exercise will enable you to balance what you want and what isn’t needed, which ultimately will ensure you find a solution that is a technical fit while minimizing your expenses. Once you have these two key questions out of the way, you can start to peel back the onion.
3. Establish a Technical Fit
Hypervisors. Which hypervisor does the provider use? This is an important question to ask because there is no standard hypervisor. It’s like choosing a mode of transportation between planes, trains, and automobiles. They’ll each get you to the same destination, but each has pros and cons that can greatly impact your success. I find that most companies leverage VMware ESX internally, but there are several in the market to choose from. By understanding which hypervisor the vendor uses, you can help scope whether or not you can import and export virtual machines you already have, or if you have to rebuild from scratch. If a cloud provider is an extension of your IT, you should find one that offers the mode of transportation you prefer.
VM specifications. Can the provider support the VM specifications you need? This will help define whether your app is able to run properly. Questions to ask include:
- How many CPUs, GB of RAM, or disk can a single VM have?
- What type of network topology can I have?
- Can I build the same networking topology leveraging the same hostnames, IPs, and MAC addresses I use internally, or do I need to use something different?
Hybrid cloud model. Does the provider support a hybrid cloud model? You will likely want the ability to keep some resources in-house, while running virtual machines with a cloud provider. Most companies can’t transition 100% of their IT resources to the cloud and choose to keep some resources in house. Being able to connect to those resources is very important.
4. Ask Use Case-Specific Questions
Once you understand each provider’s ability to technically support your needs, you need to ask use-case specific questions. I often tell people that anyone can host a VM. And the reason I tell them that is because it’s true. Finding a cloud provider is all about finding the one that best supports your use case.
Whatever your use case is, you need to know that the provider offers features that support your requirements and success criteria. So let’s look at questions specific to sales demos and evaluations.
- How easily can I access my VMs from a customer site?
- Do I need to download anything?
- Can I export VMs and run them on my laptop if the customer doesn’t have or allow Internet access?
- Can I share access to the VMs to a prospect or customer?
- Do you allow sharing of demo templates between my sales groups?
Once you understand the technical and use case-specific fit, you need to drill down on the subject of cost.
5. Scope the Pricing Conversation
Every use case is a little different and that will impact pricing. Most software demo and evaluation use cases have dynamic and transient usage graphs. On any given day, you never really know how much you’ll need, which is why most corporate IT organizations have a hard time supporting them. The good news is that many cloud providers have a usage-based billing model. Coming to the table with information on how many machines each team member will use at any given time will help scope the pricing conversation. I recommend building a few different pricing plans that support a phased rollout over a few months.
Transitioning to the cloud is almost never done like flipping a light switch–and it’s certainly not a one-click purchase. But if you ask the right questions, do your homework, and ensure your requirements and success criteria are met, you’ll be on your way to successfully integrating the cloud.
In the next part of this series, I’ll discuss how to run a successful trial once you’ve selected a couple vendors to try. If you’d like to skip ahead and talk directly to a Skytap Specialist, we’d welcome the opportunity to speak with you about your business.