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What is Your Cloud Exit Strategy?

Cloud computing is still one of the hottest subjects in IT and business today. As the cloud market starts to mature, the interest to leverage cloud only grows further. And the sources of demand are not limited to only IT. Business units and non-IT users are quickly discovering they can engage cloud-based services on their own.

While there is quite a bit of interest in discussing how to best apply cloud and moving to leverage cloud services, there has been little conversation about a Cloud Exit Strategy. Yes, thinking about the divorce even before marriage. While many have enough on their plate with thinking about how to best leverage cloud, how one exits a cloud is equally important.

And there are a number of different factors that one should consider with regards to their cloud exit strategy. In addition to terms in the service provider agreement, data integrity, size of data and alternative providers are just a few of the considerations.

CONTRACT TERMS

Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) may, or may not include terms in their contract outlining what happens to data in case of contract termination. However, the details outlined in the terms vary widely from provider to provider. Here is how two different providers addressed the issue.

Provider 1:

(iii) we will provide you with the same post-termination data retrieval assistance that we generally make available to all customers.

Provider 2:

12.1 You will not have access to your data stored on the Services during a suspension or following termination.

12.2 You have the option to create a snapshot or backup of your Cloud Servers or Databases, respectively, however, it is your responsibility to initiate the snapshot or backup and test your backup to determine the quality and success of your backups. You will be charged for your use of backup services as listed in your Order.

The concern is that not all providers will include terms in their default contracts. And even if the terms outlined above, it leaves many of the important specific details up for question. What is the method in which the data is provided? If we are talking about database files, are they provided in a CSV flat file, Excel spreadsheet or database? Before you engage a contract, it is important to work out the details on what works best when it is time to cancel the contract. If you don’t, the downside is that the provider might tack on professional services fees to ‘help’ export your data into a useful format. And that assumes they are willing to do it since you have effectively cancelled the relationship with the provider and left them with little to no incentive to help.

DATA INTEGRITY

Determining the format of the data for export is a good first step. But what happens with relational data? Simply dumping the atomic level data into a CSV file technically fulfills the terms of the contract, but leaves the data unusable. Without understanding the relationships between data elements, the data goes from readily usable to practically unusable. This is where the nature of the data needs to drive how it is exported and the format in which it is exported. That, in turn, must drive the export process that is outline in the terms of the contract.

SIZE OF DATA

Moving small amounts of data is a relatively trivial thing to do today. The amount of preparation, time and effort to do so is relatively small. In addition, the cost of high-bandwidth network connections has dropped considerably in recent years. At this point, it is common that even the average home may have a high-speed connection to the Internet.

But what if you need to move large quantities of data? Even with cheaper bandwidth and larger connections, it may still be cheaper and faster to ship physical storage devices to the CSP for initial upload. The CSP often has a service to allow shipping storage devices for importing large data loads. What they often do not have is a clear process to export large quantities of data via storage devices. And again, you have terminated the agreement and they are less inclined to work with you and your data.

It is important to think ahead about the volume and type of data being considered for the CSP and how best to move it around.

ALTERNATIVE PROVIDERS

Even if all of the details about exporting services and data have been worked out, where does one go to form a new relationship? Even with a maturing cloud marketplace, not all cloud providers offer the same services or ecosystems. Before pulling the plug on one provider, consider the process to move to an alternative provider and what they offer based on the application’s requirements.

Leveraging the evaluation criteria and selection process used to get to your first choice can provide a guide to consider alternative solutions. Be careful to consider that in such a volatile and ever-changing market such as cloud computing, the providers, services and ecosystems are constantly in flux. The list of providers used last month might not apply for this month.

WHERE TO GET STARTED

Contract negotiations on their own are a fine art. If the terms are left to an attorney to negotiate, the outcome might not be what was expected. One needs to appreciate that an attorney works with what they know. Unfortunately, they cannot be expected to know everything about cloud services nor the nuances as mentioned above. This is a good opportunity to partner with your counsel (either internal or external). They can help guide you as much as you guide them to a successful outcome.

In parallel with engaging legal counsel, map out the workflow of your application, processes, connections and data elements to provide a clearer picture of the service. Consider what you need going in and coming back out. Imagine the entire lifecycle of your relationship with the CSP from start to finish. Use that as your model for the next steps. Then take a look at the prospect CSP and their service agreement. What terms already exist regarding export and contract termination? How well does the CSP map against your requirements with both application and lifecycle? This is where the negotiations and adjustments come into play. And this is all before the contract has been signed.

IN SUMMARY

Hopefully you can see how thinking ahead and doing some planning will save quite a bit of time and headaches on the backend. As with most vendor agreements, think through the entire process before engaging. What are the most common scenarios and does your exit strategy address the needs? If not, consider what changes are needed to the cloud exit strategy to best match the requirements.

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