Reference Guide to Select a Hosted Solution

If you are thinking about creating a contingency or disaster plan for your business, you are not alone. A contingency plan has always been something that no business should be without, but recent events like hurricane Sandy, underscore the importance of such preparation.

The following is a three-step process, or evaluation guide, you can use to cut through the hype and make an informed decision:

  1. Define your requirements
  2. Evaluate Hosted or Cloud Solution
  3. Select a solution provider

Step 1: Define Your Requirements

By creating a disaster plan, you perform an analysis that increases the chance of your business to survive. You determine where your business comes from, what people you need for the business to function, and what resources you need for it to continue functioning. It is a huge project, and can seem overwhelming at the start. But think about it consider all of the things that could go wrong: fire, flood, tornado, anthrax, workplace violence, hurricane, bomb threats, the death of key employees in a car accident or plane crash, burglary, and the list goes on. The key is to focus on the situations most relevant to your business, and to develop contingency plans for all of those situations.

Aside from other vulnerabilities, the main aim of the entire contingency plan is your IT disaster recovery. It is in these plans that you will establish detailed steps needed to recover your IT systems to a state in which you can support the business after a disaster. It will also help mitigate the risks involved with technology decisions.

By developing a business strategy with an IT component that aligns with business objectives, you will enable your organization to improve performance, increase productivity, and serve customers more effectively. But before you can generate a detailed recovery plan, you will need to perform a risk assessment (RA) and/or business impact analysis (BIA) to identify the IT services that support the organization’s critical business activities. Next, you will need to establish recovery time objectives (RTOs) and recovery point objectives (RPOs). Once this work is out of the way, you are ready to move on to developing disaster recovery strategies, followed by the actual plan.

You can always seek professional services to prepare a blue print for you. They can be expensive, but avoid the temptation to cut necessary costs because it can easily undermine the success of the intended solution.

Step 2. Evaluate Hosted or Cloud Solution

A preliminary step is to understand what the solution possibilities are and how they differ. A pure cloud solution is generally described as 100 percent public Internet-based with limited options on how it can be deployed. But a hosted solution is not limited to using public Internet; it includes private line networking to ensure data quality and maximum security. One of the main advantages of using a cloud solution instead of a hosted solution would be an upgrade in the system environment. It can also result in outsourcing the management of this critical core infrastructure.

Additionally, many of the pure cloud solutions use a shared platform, similar to a multi-tenant services setup, with all customers running off a common set of servers. This may work well for some businesses, but it may limit individualized configuration-based choices for a few applications.

In contrast, a hosted arrangement provides the benefits of a premises based system without the disadvantages of cloud. It allows more flexibility, improved security, reduced risk, and better customization possibilities while typically offering a more complete set of features. The best solutions can also offer premises components where it makes sense, or even the ability to replicate a solution as either on-premises or hosted (because they are based on the same platform and software).

This can include the interface routers at your site to ensure high-quality delivery of the communications and collaboration services to the firm’s data network, and on-site gateways to implement localized carrier lines when preferred. However, the interconnecting equipment, such as routers and gateways for local carrier circuits, should be on backup power and designed for business continuity.

Step 3: Select a Solution Provider

While choosing a platform has many specific comparison points as noted above, it is just as important to diligently examine the capabilities of the proposing partner. These should not be surprising evaluation categories, but given the “managed services” nature of a hosted or cloud solution, it is critical to be sure you are picking the right partner. Unlike a services partner in a premises-based situation, it is difficult to switch if you make a mistake.

  1. Experience: Obtain as much information as possible on the experience level of the partner’s staff. Does the partner have a strong technical team, including industry recognized certifications?
  2. Financial Strength: Ask what is the partner’s financial strength and determine their ability to stay in business (there are far too many partners and the weak will not survive).
  3. References: Do not just ask for references – call each of them and ask what lessons they learned and what they would do differently.
  4. Manufacturer Relationship: Examine the relationship with the manufacturer and what support they have. Has the manufacturer vetted the solution provider or partner? Is the partner in good standing? Does the partner meet manufacturer certification and specialization requirements (or will they let just anyone resell its system)?
  5. Support: Can the partner provide leading, scalable customer support, including required escalation points?
  6. Project Management: Can the partner demonstrate strong project management capabilities and hold industry standard project management certifications?
  7. Contracts: Ask for all contractual agreements up front – and do not ever sign the documents without a full review. Most Service Level Agreements (SLAs) are relatively weak with minimal penalties for non-performance, so leave ample time to negotiate a fair set of documents.

Aside from the above listed points, there are a few more things one should consider before finalizing a solution provider.

Deployment, Management, and Support

One of most important differences between offerings will be talents, tools, and procedures the partner can provide. Thus, there is a series of questions specific to the “how” and “how well” a partner provides the following:

  1. What tools does the partner use for deployment management? In addition to a scope of work document mentioned earlier, explore how the partner executes the Statement of Work (SOW).
  2. How long does it take to deploy (both the initial services and subsequent additions or changes)?
  3. How are service requests handled? What types of online tools exist for reporting and tracking issues, change requests, etc.? Who handles the service requests – the partner or the manufacturer? Can you go to one organization or do you need to work with multiple companies to resolve the service request?
  4. Does the solution include access for your (trained) IT staff to make standard changes to the systems (typical move/add/change activities)? This should include a multi-level authorization that allows control over specific elements, including call center managers (specific to their system management and reporting needs).
  5. What is the partner’s flexibility in adding additional features and capabilities? What is the policy towards implementing the manufacturer’s upgrades? Is it your choice or theirs to upgrade or enhance the solution when the possibility exists? What about third-party enhancements?
  6. For all of the network services, how is support and troubleshooting handled? Will the partner coordinate all service work? Do they have the means and knowledge to provide end-to-end testing?
  7. What types of performance monitoring tools are included? Do you have direct access to those tools and reports? Can you get proactive notification of service events, alarms, and other exception events?
  8. Are there any other management tools provided, such as online access to billing, usage reports, etc.? Many of these capabilities are provided through software applications or dashboards – take the time to see if they fit your needs or can be customized to your requirements.

Fundamentally, there are just two decisions to make, although you often evaluate both at the same time. The first choice is to select a solution that is high quality with the complete set of features and functions you need now and in the future. The second decision, equally important, is to select the right partner to deliver the solution, bring the proper level of skills and support your organization needs. To verify what is proposed it is vital that you talk to references – don’t just take the vendor’s promises as the final word. Quality partners will have quality references. Select the right partner with the right mix of services appropriate for your specific needs and a hosted solution. This can be a great way to meet your communications infrastructure requirements.

Use this evaluation guide to choose wisely. At easySERVICE™ Data Solutions, We are committed to building the value of the easySERVICE™ brand and we stand behind our service to you. We want to earn your trust and confidence as your "go-to source" when you have disaster recovery challenges.

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