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How do I get an AWS or Azure Support Plan That Fits My Needs?

Abstract

Cloud is everywhere, the recent events worldwide have led to many cloud implementations being accelerated / expanded to facilitate home working or make an organization more flexible in a changing environment.

This article aims to outline the support plan options available from the cloud providers themselves (What are the Azure support plans? / Whats are the AWS support plans?) and their partners (Who are the partners? What do they offer?). Then ask the questions you have, in how it relates to you and your needs for the short or long term.

Maybe recent events have highlighted gaps in your capability to react to the unexpected or you have operational issues with your cloud implementation ranging from performance to cost to support and don’t know where to go next…

If you are reading this then you already know the question. This paper will aim to give you the options, so you can get some answers.

Index

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Section 1: Introduction

This outline aims to provide clarity about the choices facing your organisation for supporting your cloud deployments. The document focuses on Azure and AWS, but the points and background are relevant for any cloud platform that provides infrastructure as a service.

There is an assumption that your organisation already has cloud infrastructure deployed in a production setting. As this infrastructure has become more embedded within the organisation the platform has become business critical and for some reason the support options have become a concern.

There are often several drivers for the support options being reviewed and these could include:

  • Cost
    • Runaway costs once systems went into production
    • Hard to get a handle on costs with scaling deployments up
  • Reliability
    • Infrastructure costs used to be a capital expense every few years now they are operational and can vary month to month
  • Keeping up to date with an evolving platform
    • Azure and AWS are constantly updating / evolving
    • Managing end of life and updates needs a more reactive approach
  • Extending the capability of your in-house team
    • Your organisation probably already uses outside support for specialist software that you run like accounting; this is no different
  • Support tailored to your organisation
    • Your software systems both custom and third party running in the cloud, will they be supported?
    • Owning the outcome

Every organisation has some combination of the above and some that are unique to your business / sector. This document tries to break down the pros and cons of the different support options at the different levels and how they address the above.

  • Direct support from Azure (Microsoft) / AWS (Amazon)
    • What are the options? And why not go direct?
  • Partners
    • What are the partner programmes and how do they work?
    • What types of partners are there and what do they offer?

I hope you find this outline useful and any feedback, good or bad, is welcomed. If there is anything you want to discuss further or areas where we have not answered your questions, please get in touch with me personally. (Steve.Rastall@igroupltd.co.uk | 01829 470 095)

Background: An analogy of how the players fit together

There is a tendency with IT related areas to overcomplicate things and get bogged down in the technology. If you are reading this, you are probably working at a senior level within your organisation and not necessarily in an IT role. Over many years of working with customers I have found it helpful to use an analogy to explain the technology /players and how it fits together.

For infrastructure as a service, I have found the comparison to a national utility company to be one of the best. Also, this is one that almost everyone will be familiar with and can be used to explain how it all fits together for a technical as well as a non-technical audience at any level within an organisation.

The table below shows an example breakdown of the different players and their roles. The example below uses the electricity grid, but another example would be water or telecommunication utilities.

 

Infrastructure as a service

Example utility (Power Grid)

Notes

Azure (Microsoft) / AWS (Amazon)

National Grid infrastructure then power companies e.g. British Gas

The utility company provide the infrastructure service but apart from billing and an online presence / helpline their direct interactions with the majority of customers are limited

Partners

Contractors

These range in size from one-man bands to large companies with a direct relationship with the utility company almost acting as them for their customers

 

Section 2: Why not go direct to the provider?

Background

Both Microsoft (Azure) and Amazon (AWS) offer direct support packages in a very similar manner. Each offer a free level of support which is led by online forums and wikis. Then there are one or two levels of support for development / production deployments which enable troubleshooting and tickets. Then there are the more enterprise levels which are either not offered unless your organisation is a certain size / profile (Microsoft) or are priced highly (Amazon).

How do they work / help my organisation?

The packages available from a cursory examination tick all the right boxes once you get to a middle tier. They mention all of the points that you might look for in a standard support agreement:

  • 1 hour ticket turn around
  • Dedicated team
  • 24 hour support

This appears to tick all the boxes. However, these mid-level packages have to balance what they will take on and provide boundaries where their responsibility ends.

In the case of a system failing, your team could bring it back up and log a ticket when it doesn’t work as expected and then wait for a diagnosis. This then comes back confirming that all the infrastructure is working as expected or that there are errors being thrown by the software you have installed. At this point the ticket is resolved.        

Another scenario is that you have a deployment which is experiencing performance issues and needs to be restarted periodically or it will fail. A ticket is logged and the infrastructure is checked and no errors are found. At this point the ticket is resolved with the feedback.

In both the scenarios above the provider has met their obligation and ensured that the infrastructure as a service is running as expected. There might even be a series of recommendations, but these types of tickets will drag on and there is often no clear way forward.

 

Summary

In my opinion the support available from the providers (the utility companies) is limited unless you are large enough or prepared to pay enough. This point is made by AWS on the front page of their support overview with the pricing of the plans only Enterprise has access to a concierge team and the cost example starts at around a minimum of $15k per month.

The support is also inflexible by its very nature. Let’s assume that both AWS and Azure each have hundreds of thousands of deployments across hundreds of thousands of customers. The support levels offered by the providers have to service all of these customers and not only that they need to be scalable so that they can be offered. By its very nature, these constraints mean that it will be limited to what can be found as common ground by the providers to offer across all of these customers.

The providers get around this problem by providing a basic level of support that will scale so that there is something there for customers to fall back on but then having an extensive network of partners who then provide tailored services to their customers.

This is a consistent approach with all large technology providers like CISCO / Apple not just Microsoft / Amazon. It’s an approach that works which is why Amazon implemented it when they started to offer infrastructure as a service.

Section 3: What are the options and where do partners fit?

Background on the partner programmes

Both Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure have a partner programme, which vets to different levels the partner organisations and individuals within them to help give some guidance to customers choosing them.

To go back to the analogy of a utility company the partners come in all shapes and sizes and offer a variety of services.

The utility company is not interested in fixing a lightbulb or installing a car charging point. This is the bread and butter of the partners and it’s an area that the utility providers have no interest in providing.

 

What are types of partners and how are they structured?

When looking at the market it’s useful to understand how the partners are structured. This influences the services they provide and how they will interact with your organisation.

The partners generally fall into the following categories:

  • Large scale partners with direct reseller deals
    • These partners usually have a direct relationship with one provider and follow many of their processes and are quite closely linked.
    • Then challenge when evaluating these partners… are they able to provide services beyond what the provider already provides?
    • Often but not always these organisations have a ‘core’ business and then use a more speciality partner who white label their services for areas that they have less experience with or want to move into
  • Medium size partners with single or multiple specialities
    • Generally, these partners have multiple teams within their business and are part of several partner programmes.
    • For example, within Microsoft partners they might be a licence reseller and also provide support for one of their products like Dynamics.
    • These partners are generally quite focused on the areas they offer but are often project or consultancy-based businesses where support is provided by the same team doing the projects / consultancy.
  • Smaller specialist partners / Consultants / One man bands
    • These organisations can be quite attractive as you are essentially buying in an extra pair of hands when you need it, however this is limited when you need to provide this on-going.
    • Also, these organisations are not able to scale the services they offer.



What do the partners offer?

If you run a google search for AWS support or Azure support, you will be bombarded with pay per click ads from different partners offering their services. They will be a range from all of the partner types discussed previously, and they will all be offering ‘support’ but what does this actually mean for you?

Many of the partners are offering support services which amount to a traditional IT support contract. Along the lines of if it breaks or you have a problem raise a ticket and we will respond. They also provide additional services for consultancy or projects which can then be resourced as required.

A few are offering some form of network monitoring, but this is not hooking into the feeds that the platforms provide. The partners offering this more sophisticated service are using traditional network monitoring so they are only looking at one level of the platform, they are getting none of the underlying information. They usually have a networks background so this can look attractive but it is only skin deep.

As an example, if you only monitor a virtual machine with network software you will know the windows version for example and if an update needs to be applied, which is good. However, you will not know any information about the VM from the platform and what it costs / when it needs to patch etc…

This will only get you so far with cloud infrastructure because as discussed in the introduction to this article the range of areas that support needs to cover and provide feedback on is too wide ranging.

  • Cost
  • Reliability
  • Keeping up to date with an evolving platform
  • Extending the capability of your in-house team

Something a bit different is needed to work with your cloud infrastructure and provide the support you need.

 

What do igroup offer and where do we fit?

igroup are cloud support and management specialists and have worked with cloud infrastructure since its initial release. We are partners with both Amazon and Microsoft and can provide support on both your own subscription and host you on ours.

We offer something a bit different; we have hooked into the feeds the providers have so we can give you insights about your infrastructure. Initially we speak to many customers about cost as this can be an important driver in our initial discussions. Making sure that you are not overpaying for the infrastructure you have or running something at a higher spec than needed for your usage.

We tick all the traditional support boxes and then have our own technology CloudOps Active Management Solution (CAMS) which takes things further. We have tech and people, a UK based team providing support and monitoring.

CAMS addresses all of the areas discussed in the introduction.

  • Cost
    • Active monitoring and review your infrastructure and suggestions on how to optimise cost vs performance.
  • Reliability
    • Run AWS and Azure or multiple deployments, link CAMS into them all
    • Automated updates and patching
  • Keeping up to date with an evolving platform
    • Your infrastructure is constantly being monitored and optimised.
  • Extending the capability of your in-house team
    • Risk registers and 24 hour support
  • Support tailored to your organisation.
    • Link into new or existing subscription
    • UK based team who will get to know your infrastructure,
      • Not an impersonal always changing contact

For more background and the core areas CAMS covers please see the following information about CAMS core features.

Section 4: Conclusion

If you review the market it seems like there is a lot of choice at different levels and price points. However, 99% of the market is offering a variation on a traditional support contract. Even the providers are doing this just with more inflexibility and a higher price point.

This might be a fit for your organisations needs or part of them for a while but from our experience at igroup this will only cover part of the problem.

  • Cost
  • Reliability
  • Keeping up to date with an evolving platform
  • Extending the capability of your in-house team
  • Support tailored to your organisation

Cloud infrastructure touches all areas of your organisation, so why would you only look at one area when choosing a support partner. Its no good only being able to fix the cost if you cant get the performance.

We are proud of our CAMS offering and believe it will help you get the best out of your cloud infrastructure so please get in touch and we can show you how we can help.

In conclusion I hope this outline has provided some useful background which will enable you to make choices around what your organisation needs when it comes to cloud infrastructure support based on what’s being offered.

If you take nothing else from this document, I hope it has provided some background on what the options are and how the partners fit together with the providers.

AWS Consultancy Experts

Case study: Scirra

Choosing the right AWS Partner for existing AWS infrastructure.

How the right cloud management solution can improve the subscription management of over 1000 publications annually. 

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The Perfect Solution for Your Managed Cloud Services

igroup’s CloudOps Active Management Solution (CAMS) is designed to solve these exact problems, based on our team’s experience in supporting and managing cloud environments since 2010.

CAMS offers highly advanced performance and cost monitoring tools, support, and administration through one single portal to manage your cloud for you. This includes:

  • Always-on support; fault, find, and fix
  • Easy-to-use management, monitoring, and reporting dashboards
  • Proactive infrastructure optimisation
  • Tools and apps to enhance your cloud performance
  • Guaranteed cost savings.

CAMS is a proven way of reducing your cloud spend and optimising performance. The system can be implemented across any new or existing AWS and Azure cloud environment, allowing you to focus on delivering applications and services, not managing your cloud infrastructure.

Unlike a traditional cloud support service, CAMS already includes all the features and functionality your business needs without any hidden costs or surprise charges.

igroup and CAMS will:

  • Become an integral part of your team, delivering high quality advice and support
  • Allow you to concentrate on delivering your own services and applications
  • Improve overall business profitability and reduce cloud costs
  • Enable your business to grow through the cloud.

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Key Benefits

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