Cloud computing has established itself as the dominant model when it comes to IT infrastructure. Instead of operating hardware themselves, companies rent the required resources and services. For most businesses, this approach offers numerous advantages in terms of cost-effectiveness, data protection, and collaboration. We provide an overview and conclude with the disadvantages of cloud computing.
Amazon Web Services (AWS) has always been the market leader in cloud computing. In the meantime, however, a number of appealing AWS alternatives have cropped up. Due to the ongoing development of cloud technologies, it is not easy to find the best provider for each specific case. In many cases, however, it is worth the effort to look for the right cloud computing technology.
- What is important when looking at cloud computing providers?
- Use cloud services as AWS alternatives
- AWS and alternatives compared
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What is important when looking at cloud computing providers?
Companies benefit from the many advantages of cloud computing. However, the shift to cloud-based infrastructure also requires work. In many ways, using cloud services means a loss of control. Where previously your company’s own hardware was likely used, this same hardware is now outsourced and rented – on the terms of your chosen provider. The choice of which cloud computing technology you use should therefore be well considered, because you’ll be working with your partner closely.
The authors of a study on the selection criteria for cloud service providers (CSPs) at the Technische Universität München and Technische Universität Dortmund (in English: the technical universities of Munich and Dortmund, or TUM) note that:
“Choosing the wrong CSP can lead to failure in future service delivery, compromised data confidentiality or integrity, and non-compliance with established regulations […].” – Michael Lang, Manuel Wiesche & Helmut Krcmar
When selecting a cloud provider, lots of factors come into play. These go beyond purely technical aspects. Over the years, there has been a shift in focus. Nowadays, the focus is increasingly on the non-technical attributes. This is because the use of the cloud means you rely on the provider. As a result, trust and satisfaction in the cloud provider as a partner is moving to center stage.
Amazon Web Services (AWS) has always dominated the market for cloud services. However, there are now a large number of alternatives competing with AWS. How providers are ranked in terms of data protection, pricing, certification, etc. is of great importance. The difficulty lies in making the various services comparable. This is really the only way to make an optimal decision for a company, but how to start?
Quality-of-Service (QoS) attributes for AWS alternatives
Quality of Service (QoS) attributes are characteristics used to measure the quality of a service. Aggregated, these can be extended to measure the quality of the service provider. In the following, we refer to the study conducted by the Technical University of Munich (TUM). As part of a Delphi study, a panel of experts was asked about selection criteria for cloud providers. The answers were evaluated according to a defined scheme, weighted, and placed in context with previous studies. The authors of the above study state:
“To select the ‘right’ CSP, a wide range of technical and managerial Quality-of-Service (QoS) attributes must be considered. For example, technical QoS attributes such as performance or reliability are essential to specify characteristics of the CSP in relation to the cloud service itself and can be measured using specific techniques such as bandwidth or latency tests.” – Michael Lang, Manuel Wiesche & Helmut Krcmar
As we can see, two classes of QoS attributes come into play in decision making:
- Technical QoS attributes for selecting an AWS alternative
The technical attributes form a foundation for decision-making. These are the functional properties of the cloud computing services. This answers the question whether the services give you what you need to attain your goals. In addition, the possibility of integrating the services into the existing corporate structure is considered.
- Managerial QoS attributes for selecting an AWS alternative
The managerial attributes are good to think about to reduce uncertainty when selecting a cloud provider. Managerial attributes aim to identify concrete metrics about the provider’s services. The aim is to test whether the cloud computing provider delivers what they promise and to ensure that they meet regulatory requirements.
Let’s first get an overview of the technical QoS attributes:
|Technical QoS Attribute||Explanation|
|Functionality||Availability, performance, scalability, security|
|Flexibility||Possibility to change the services used|
|Integration||Available interfaces and protocols for integration into the corporate structure|
|Control||Tools and approaches for controlling and configuring the services|
The authors of the TUM study emphasize the importance of the decision-making QoS attributes that go beyond the technical characteristics:
“To adequately assess and verify the range of technical QoS attributes, cloud customers require managerial QoS. Managerial QoS attributes such as geolocation of servers or monitoring services verify and assure the capabilities and advertised characteristics of a CSP.” – Michael Lang, Manuel Wiesche & Helmut Krcmar
Let’s now take a look at the managerial QoS attributes:
|Managerial QoS Attribute||Explanation|
|Compliance||Compliance with regulatory requirements; dependent on the provider’s registered office and the location of the servers|
|Contracts||Clear, unambiguous contracts with comprehensible pricing structure based on consumption|
|Geographical location of servers||Affects applicable data protection regulations as well as latencies when accessed by users|
|Transparency||In terms of security, data protection, cloud architecture, etc.|
|Certification||By recognized bodies; creates legal certainty|
|Monitoring||Monitoring of the quality of the services obtained|
|Deployment model||Public/private/hybrid cloud; API, orchestration, infrastructure-as-code (IaC).|
|Test environment||Free trial period, tests of functionality, integration, control|
Picking a cloud provider as an AWS alternative
The abundance of cloud providers is leading to increased competition. This is reflected in newly lower prices, but also creates an incentive for providers to cut corners. Therefore, the transparency of the provider is becoming increasingly important. However, the cloud service itself is not transparent; as a customer, you have to rely on the information provided by the provider. As elucidated by the study by the Technical University of Munich:
“Transparency, however, is limited within the cloud computing environment, and customers may not have complete information to assure performance and attain or maintain regulatory compliance.” – Michael Lang, Manuel Wiesche & Helmut Krcmar
More choice in cloud providers such as AWS and comparable alternatives also means that it becomes more difficult for customers to make a decision. Due to the large number of services provided by the various providers and the sometimes highly complex price structures, it is almost impossible to compare prices directly. This is easier if providers follow established standards. Third-party certifications, service level agreements (SLA) and open interfaces make it easier to compare several providers.
Cloud technology is constantly developing. New services are offered, some of which are not very well known. This can lead to uncertainty on the part of customers. Test environments are therefore incredibly important. This enables customers to see the performance and integration capabilities of the technologies and interfaces for themselves.
The general process for selecting a cloud provider includes three phases:
- Make the decision to use cloud services. Define business requirements and framework conditions.
- Pre-select cloud provider candidates. These all meet the functional requirements.
- Decide on one or more cloud providers. Consider multi-/hybrid cloud approaches.
Use cloud services as AWS alternatives
The above QoS attributes provide a solid foundation for structured decision making. Let’s now turn our attention to the specific attributes of alternatives competing with AWS, as well as the modalities of interoperation.
Define the framework of your relationship with the business
The first step is to define your company’s own requirements for cloud services. The first steps are to define your goals and determine your current state of affairs. It is important to keep dark data in mind: You are probably operating with only a subset of the available information. The next step is to create a roadmap that describes the path from the current state to achieving your goals. In doing so, it is important to keep an eye on the technological development.
Before looking at technical capacities, the trustworthiness of potential partners should be ensured. Important points are financial stability, jurisdiction of the company headquarters, and transparency. The business philosophy should also fit well; companies are increasingly placing importance on the ethical behavior of their business partners.
Normally, a customer will already have an IT infrastructure, whether on their own systems or in the cloud. It is important that the existing systems can be migrated to the new provider or used in the network. It should also be determined to what extent the provider’s support is required for the migration. For maximum flexibility, the cloud provider should support multi- and hybrid cloud approaches. Ideally, Infrastructure-as-Code (IaC) approaches would be used to build the cloud infrastructure.
Sifting through the provider’s contract and terms and conditions can take some effort. It is easier if the terms and conditions follow familiar patterns. It makes sense to define an exit strategy before the business relationship begins. This can cover both individual services and the entire service package. The strategy should define events that make an exit necessary and specify the actions to be taken.
Determine the compliance of the service provider
When using cloud services, you have to rely on the promises made by the providers. So, trust is good, control is better? In cloud computing, this holds true, so do your homework. The certification of service providers according to established standards plays an important role. Cloud providers are usually certified to at least ISO 9001 (quality management system) and ISO 27001 (information security management).
Data protection and security are among the most important criteria when choosing a cloud provider. At the very least, all data in transit should be encrypted, and ideally data at rest should be too. Automated backups enable the disaster recovery of affected systems in the event of damage and lay the foundation for revision security. The geographic location of computing and data centers helps determine applicable data security laws.
Protecting data and virtual systems only makes sense if the physical security of the data and data centers is in place. The security measures available as standard include constant camera surveillance, protection of the premises by a security service and access controls with biometric identification. Furthermore, automatic systems should be used to protect against fire and to ensure cooling and power supply.
The most important technical criteria when choosing a cloud provider include performance and scalability. Performance can be measured by metrics for data access and processing. These include available CPU cores, RAM, and mass storage, each billed per unit of time. Usually, the customer can choose between different types of technologies used, e.g. AMD vs. Intel processors, HDD vs. SSD storage etc. In addition, there is incoming and outgoing data traffic, billed according to the amount of data transferred. It is important that the resources used can be scaled as needed.
The performance metrics refer to the maximum expected performance, but are not enough in themselves to evaluate a cloud service. For a meaningful evaluation, you need information on the reliability and availability of the service. To specify high-availability services, availability is often given as a percentage. A commonly encountered availability is 99.999% - also known as “five nines”. If a service is 99.999% available, it is expected to have a downtime of less than one second per day. To ensure the high availability of systems, they are kept redundant in globally distributed data centers.
It is also important to keep an eye on the future development of cloud technologies. This includes the expected availability of new services, applications, protocols, and interfaces. Ideally, the provider should make a test environment available. This allows customers to see for themselves the performance of new technologies and approaches.
In order to regulate the ongoing cooperation between cloud provider and customer, a “Service Level Agreement” (SLA) is often drafted up and signed. This is a framework contract as a service quality agreement for recurring services. The SLA defines the expected availability of the services used as well as other parameters such as the provider’s response times. Usually, the customer can choose from several available service levels. Higher service levels are associated with higher costs on the part of the customer.
The pricing of cloud services is subject to a high degree of variability. Usually, the resources used, such as CPU cores, work and mass storage, and bandwidth, are billed according to use. However, there are also offerings that include fixed costs or where a combination of the two types of costs is incurred. Some providers integrate mechanisms for curbing the services used in order to protect the customer from high costs in the event of unexpected usage volume.
When using cloud services, you’re dependent on the provider. Good customer support is therefore really important. This can go beyond purely technical support. Lots of customers often need consulting services in order to make the best use of the wealth of services on offer. In principle, it is a good idea for cloud providers and customers alike to establish a close cooperation.
AWS and alternatives compared
Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the market leader in cloud computing. So, the question arises as to why a company should rely on an alternative instead of AWS. AWS has its strengths, but there are a few things which detract from its appeal. Of course, an individual business’ needs will be the deciding factors, but let’s take a look at why a business may want to steer clear or AWS.
What are the disadvantages of AWS?
One of the most common complaints regarding AWS is the complicated pricing structure. Bid prices are calculated based on various factors that are always changing. As of Spring 2021, there were 16 different regions and 10 operating systems as parameters for pricing. In addition, there are support costs, which currently amount to 3-10% of the cost of resources and services used.
Amazon Web Services comprises an extensive portfolio of offered services. The exact number is difficult to measure, but it is definitely in the lower three-digit range. New services are being added all the time. In the words of the authors of the TUM study:
“Moreover, the technology associated with cloud computing changes quickly and continually because of short technology life-cycles.” - Michael Lang, Manuel Wiesche & Helmut Krcmar
In order to cope with the variety of available AWS services, specialists are needed on the company’s side. Staying up to date means investing in training on an ongoing basis. A company may need to bring in external consultants to train its in-house IT teams. All of this requires effort and resources and ties the company more and more to the provider over time, which some may consider to be a disadvantage to AWS.
In addition, Amazon has recently encountered criticism for morally questionable business practices. Furthermore, Amazon has repeatedly attracted attention due to unfair treatment of its workforce. Due to Amazon’s close ties with the military-industrial complex, some companies may not consider working with AWS. The company has a virtual monopoly on the cloud market and thus exerts enormous influence on the companies working with it.
What are the advantages of comparably smaller AWS alternatives?
There are a number of advantages to using cloud services from smaller vendors. For example, smaller providers often place more emphasis on simpler handling of the services and interfaces. Furthermore, a clearer price structure often comes into play, which is particularly attractive for startups and small companies. If the providers are European, the data is stored in Europe in compliance with European data laws, which are strict. This means that data sovereignty is easier to maintain.
It is particularly attractive for smaller providers to strive for close cooperation with customers. They are not merely service providers, but cooperation partners working to achieve set goals together. Instead of just providing infrastructure, small providers offer special managed solutions. This positions them in an area that was traditionally reserved for software houses and managed service providers.
Why is IONOS a good AWS alternative?
The IONOS Cloud is a cloud solution for professionals. IONOS is a founding member of the German-French government project Gaia-X. The project aims to support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in digitization. Generally, it is not efficient for SMEs to build their own data centers. With Gaia-X, synergies are used and the interoperability of European providers is expanded. The use of open interfaces, open-source solutions and international standards protects SMEs from vendor lock-in.
The IONOS Cloud includes all the components a company needs to realize sophisticated cloud-based applications. Let’s take a look at an overview of the most important components of the IONOS Cloud:
|IONOS Cloud Components||Explanation|
|Calculator||IaaS solution for professional cloud computing applications|
|S3 Object memory||API compatible with AWS S3|
|Managed Kubernetes||Orchestrate container applications in distributed production environments|
|Backup-as-a-Service||Backups stored in ISO 27001 certified data centers|
|Private Cloud||Dedicated hardware in ISO-certified high-performance data centers|
The IONOS Cloud shines with sustainability and transparency. Special attention is paid to the extensive support, which also includes managed solutions and Cloud Disaster Recovery.
Building a cloud infrastructure usually requires a lot of skill and experience. Here, the use of the IONOS Cloud pays off several times over. The Data Center Designer (DCD) provides a web-based graphical user interface. This allows the individual components of a cloud infrastructure to be assembled effortlessly. Behind the scenes, the DCD uses the IONOS Cloud API. The API can also be accessed directly using the IonosCTL command line tool and SDKs for GOLang, Python, Java, Ruby, and Node. Furthermore, the tools Terraform, Ansible, Docker Machine, and Chef (via Knife plugin) are supported. This allows the use of state-of-the-art Infrastructure-as-Code (IaC) and multi-cloud approaches.
Use IONOS Cloud – an AWS Cloud Alternative!