Since the economic downturn of 2008, training organizations have been asked to do more with less. I’ve heard from many of our customers that training budgets were the first to be cut, which is now forcing a shift in how training is delivered. Many customers have chosen not to travel to remote training facilities and have instead opted for less training or more cost-effective approaches. And of the more cost-effective approaches, one of the most viable options has become virtual training through cloud computing.

However, the shift to cloud computing for virtual training 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 employ when choosing the right cloud provider for you. Professionals working in virtual training will have case-specific requirements in addition to corporate success criteria, so let’s look at some standards.

1. Name Your Requirements

The following is a basic list of things that many customers need to be able to do:

  1. Empower an end-user community to use the service on their own.
  2. Take snapshots and clone virtual machines (VMs) to share between users.
  3. Upload existing internal VMs.
  4. Give external access to customers, partners, etc.
  5. Give access to a global user community.
  6. Have Fort Knox security and approval from an IT Security team.
  7. Maintain visibility over activity, usage, and cost.

And you may have more. If you need more insight on determining requirements, consult with the IT team that currently supports your training requirements. Once you have a basic grasp on these requirements, you will have a variety of vendors to investigate to 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 your needs? Figuring out technical feasibility is your top priority.

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 the pricing as you scale is also must.

Once you have these two key questions out of the way, you can start to peel back the onion.

3. Establish a Technical Fit

VM Import/Export. Can you use the virtual machines you already have, or will you need to rebuild from scratch? If a cloud provider is an extension of your IT, you should find one that offers the same virtualization technology you use today, allowing you to import and export pre-built virtual machines.

VM Access. What protocol do my instructors and students need to access the virtual machines through the web? Most will require Java, ActiveX, or something similar. You will want to ensure your user community can easily connect when behind corporate firewalls. Does the vendor also provide a web tool, so you can check VM connectivity and make sure each end user’s local computer is set up properly for class?

VM Specifications. Can the provider support the VM specifications you need? This will help define whether your class 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 typology, 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? A hybrid cloud model gives customers the ability to keep some resources in house, while running virtual machines with a cloud provider. Most companies can’t transition 100% of their classroom 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 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 virtual training.

  • Can I replicate a classroom experience in the cloud with features like over-the-shoulder sharing?
  • Do my students need to download anything to connect to their virtual machines?
  • Can I empower the students to turn on/off their VMs?
  • Can I empower the instructor to create virtual classrooms from a single, gold master VM?
  • Can I empower my instructors to create, manage, and instruct classes while still having visibility and control over what they’re doing?

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 virtual training use cases have dynamic and transient usage graphs–meaning, you never really know how much you’ll need. And this 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 trainer 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.

So as you can see, this process has little in common with a one-click purchase. Ask the right questions, do your homework, ensure your requirements and success criteria are met, and 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.

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