How to make an AWS partner work for you

When an e-learning company had latency issues on Rackspace's managed cloud, the writing was on the wall. It was time to get help and move to AWS.

The cloud allows startups and SMBs to get to market quickly, but deciding which cloud service provider to trust with your business isn't as simple.

Companies with little public cloud expertise often turn to integration partners.

"We immediately went into the cloud," said Paul Cypher, CEO of CypherWorx Inc., an e-learning provider located in Rochester, New York. "It would have been so cost prohibitive for an organization like ours in the old model – having a data center in-house and professionals to manage it."

The problem with [companies] like Rackspace and Amazon is that they're not readily available to assist you in that fine-tuning stuff.

Sean McDermott,
CEO of Windward IT Solutions

But CypherWorx didn't turn to an integration partner on the first try. Under recommendations of a colleague, the company went with Rackspace's public cloud and then sought better performance through its managed cloud service, following another recommendation. Still, the company struggled with performance issues.

"We were having slowness issues on our managed cloud service," Cypher said. "We were having issues with the [content delivery network] on how quickly video and audio files were streaming. We were having customer complaints once we reached about 5,000 unique users."

Cypher doesn't blame the latency entirely on Rackspace, though. His internal staff didn't have experience in managed cloud services or in open cloud.

The company took its business elsewhere -- to Amazon Web Services (AWS), but not only because of its cloud offerings.

"One of the reasons we switched to AWS was because [it] has a number of consulting firms available to organizations like ours," Cypher said. "We actually reached out to Rackspace and asked them if they had outside consultants who could do an audit of how we set up the cloud and how the cloud was set up for us. They didn't have those services available."

CypherWorx interviewed five different consulting firms that were listed on Amazon's site and chose 2nd Watch because it seemed to understand the CypherWorx environment. The firm also offered the managed cloud service CypherWorx was accustomed to.

"It would be expensive for us to find somebody who could manage our cloud environment," Cypher said. "And even if we did find someone who could [do that] and wanted to pay those funds, it's hard for that one person to keep up to date on all the [compliance] changes."

CypherWorx also buys support from a database specialist at 2nd Watch to manage a database instance on RDS.

Rackspace declined to comment for this article.

Integration partners as a symbiotic relationship

With pages upon pages of AWS partners listed on Amazon's site, what should a company look for and when is it time to seek the help of an integration partner?

"It depends on scale," said Sean McDermott, CEO of Windward IT Solutions, an IT service management and systems engineering firm based in Herndon, Virginia. "It really is totally dependent on how much infrastructure they have and how much resources they have to do it."

One person can manage anywhere from 40 to maybe 80 servers or virtual machines, but when you start getting beyond a ratio that's comfortable and you can't handle anymore, it's time to look to a partner, he said.

A big part of finding a good partner is to know where you want your company to go and how that partner can help get you there.

"In the long term, you have to understand what you want out of [the partnership]," McDermott said.

If you want someone to monitor your infrastructure, perform patches, ensure security, update you on compliance issues and bring the cloud back up if it goes down, it's easy to bid this out and choose the best partner, he said.

"But depending on the type of application you're running in the cloud, having a partner that has the ability to do that plus become a value add to your team to look at the analytics and understand what the analytics mean … that partner can pay for itself in spades," he said.

McDermott advises that companies look for a cloud partner that offers personalized service from the get-go, not just as an add-on service. A partner should "ultimately become an extension of your team and start to understand what you are doing -- and you don't get a different person every time you call up," he said. "That's a waste of time and money."

You also want your partner to act on your behalf with the cloud service provider, McDermott noted.

"The problem with [companies] like Rackspace and Amazon is that they're not readily available to assist you in that fine-tuning stuff," he added. "You can rely on them and certainly should rely on them to be your voice in making sure the cloud provider meets your expectations on the SLAs but also … makes sure you're getting the best price you possibly can at that given time."

CypherWorx is in talks with its partner to control AWS costs and is looking into reserved instances.

"I have been surprised at times when we got lower [AWS] bills than we expected," Cypher said. "That's one of the reasons we're looking at the reserved instance; it could control that cost a little more."

The company runs about 14 instances in AWS, ranging from m1.Large instances to t1.micro instances.

"2nd Watch gave us an analysis of our current usage and then calculated what the difference would be with reserved instances," Cypher said. "They have a calculation to figure that out based on historic and anticipated usage."

But keep in mind: Finding cost savings with a cloud services partner will cost you, so the savings may be a wash. CypherWorx pays 2nd Watch a fixed monthly fee for hours for its managed cloud services and then an additional charge for the database specialist, on top of its AWS charges.

Michelle Boisvert is executive site editor for SearchCloudComputing, SearchAWS, SearchWindowsServer and SearchDataCenter. Contact her at mboisvert@techtarget.com.

This was first published in June 2014

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