Evgeny Makaryin
Products & Solutions Team Leader, Linxdatacenter
25.01.2022

Choosing a cloud provider in Russia: Through the eyes of the customer

Cloud providers' customer focus, competitive pricing, and advanced technology stack are powerful weapons against the competition. In this article, we will have a look at the results of Russian market research, including key challenges, achievements, and areas for further growth

Evgeny Products & Solutions Team Leader, .

Cloud providers' customer focus, competitive pricing, and advanced technology stack are powerful weapons against the competition. In this article, we will have a look at the results of Russian market research, including key challenges, achievements, and areas for further growth

The pace of implementation of cloud services in both business and the public sector has been growing rapidly in recent years. At the same time, the competition among cloud providers is accelerating. They use various methods to fight for customers, from legitimate to questionable ones. However, being customer-centric remains one of the cloud provider's key tools for attracting new customers and retaining existing ones.  

In a study by the Pega company, 50% of cloud service provider employees interviewed reported that providing a superior customer experience is a priority among non-IT tasks. 73% of respondents emphasized that it is crucial to work with customers in a personalized way, giving them the feeling that the provider really cares about how customer IT systems function in their data centers.

From the perspective of a "mystery shopper"

What is the situation with customer focus in the cloud services market in Russia? To answer this question, we conducted our own research of providers' performance regarding first-time requests from prospective customers.

In the course of the research, we assessed the informativeness of providers' open resources over the Internet, their response speed to requests received through various channels, and other aspects of customer communications. The research methodology was based on the mystery shopper approach. In total, 26 audits of the leaders of the Russian cloud market were performed. Shopper (тайный покупатель). Всего было выполнено 26 проверок лидеров облачного рынка РФ.

The requests were on IaaS as virtual resources and out-of-the-box IT solutions to comply with the Russian Federal Personal Data Law No.152 (hereinafter 152-FZ). The providers were reached via customer service chats and emails.

Results, observations, realities

31% of providers demonstrated a fast response (up to 10 minutes). 23% of companies showed a low response speed (from several hours to 7 days). 15% of providers did not respond to the inquiry; mystery shoppers also contacted them by calling the hotline.

The level of communication was also assessed through qualifying questions. The majority (80% of companies) asked additional questions. The most frequent questions concerned the reasons for cloud migration, expected launch deadlines, current objectives, and budgets. Other technical questions included those related to infrastructure compliance with the 152-FZ requirements.

When approached using chat on the customer portal, 54% of the companies sent a proposal within 24 hours following the start of the dialogue.

Most providers responded to email requests for quotes within 24 hours. Yet, for 15% of providers, the estimation and sending of the proposal took 6-7 days.

The mystery shoppers had difficulties discovering the documentation required for cooperation with a provider (contract forms, technical documentation, pricing plans). About 40% of cloud providers' websites have no documentation for initial review. 30% of providers have no online calculators to roughly estimate the cost of services on their website.

Pricing: To each their own

The study revealed that providers have different approaches toward pricing in their proposals. The following are among the most important nuances to check upon receiving a business offer from a service provider.

Is the speed of Internet access guaranteed?

Resources in the cloud without external access are more of an exception. Disruptions in connectivity make it difficult for users to work with IT systems. Therefore, it is necessary to pay special attention to the infrastructure availability and what kind of Internet access a provider offers.

Some cloud providers do not guarantee the Internet bandwidth, and it is shared with the other customers. Thus, if one of the “neighbors” overloads the available capacity, the other customer will experience packet loss and disconnections. This will cause degradation of the IT systems. This kind of Internet access is relatively inexpensive; it is frequently included in the cost of resources and is not charged separately. This makes the proposal more appealing, but only at first glance.

The other providers offer Internet access at the corporate level, with guaranteed performance. The cost is substantially higher, but the customer enjoys a superior level of service, and the provider is financially responsible for its quality. It is up to the customer to decide which option to choose. The main point is to choose carefully. enterprise, с гарантированными характеристиками. Стоимость при этом значительно выше, но клиент получает услугу более высокого уровня, а оператор несет финансовую ответственность за её качество. Решение, какой вариант выбрать, принимает заказчик. Главное – делать это осознанно.

Is prepayment necessary?

Resource management flexibility is a crucial characteristic of the cloud, and by purchasing one/two/three years of services in advance, a customer can get a significant discount. Numerous providers offer this option. However, there are some differences in how they show the discount in the proposal.

The proposal may include:

  • The sum paid per month, if paid monthly,
  • The sum of an annual payment,
  • The sum paid per month if prepaid for a year.

In the last case, the monthly payment is significantly lower than the competitors, but the conditions for providing a discount are not always clearly indicated in the proposal. It is easy to miss such a peculiarity because of the unclear way the information is presented.

Is it legal to store personal data?

Our research clearly showed that the virtual machines would store personal data and require compliance of the infrastructure with the Russian personal data law.

The majority of providers separately included the cost for placement in the certified segment. Many of them also specified the option to purchase data protection and crypto-protection tools and the cost of each unit as an additional item.

At the same time, there were also unconventional approaches:

  •  It was indicated as a special condition that the cost of resources would increase by several dozen percent if they were allocated in the segment compliant with the 152-FZ requirements. In this case, customers have to do the math by themselves.
  • The compliance/validation of the platform for hosting personal data was ignored entirely. Such an approach implies certain risks for the customer. They might not notice the unavailability of the required capabilities or might assume that they are included in the proposal by default. This could lead to ordering an unsuitable service or being charged extra for additional features.

Are all services included in the final calculation?

The typical approach to preparing a proposal is to provide the customer with a detailed quote for all services. For example, if a customer requests a backup of 10 virtual machines, the cloud provider specifies the service's total cost.

However, some providers specify only the unit price for individual services, placing this data on a separate spreadsheet. In other words, a request for a backup of 10 VMs is responded to with the cost of a backup of 1 VM. This means that the final quote does not contain the services required by the customer.

How well does the offer match the request?

One more hidden trap that a potential customer may encounter is the absence of all the requested resources in the proposal. For instance, say the customer requests 500 GB of storage, but there is only 300 GB estimated in the quote. Meanwhile, the provider does not offer any explanation. Is it a misprint or a trick? Since the cost of storage is a significant part of the service, such a mistake can cost the customer a considerable amount of money.

Summary

The customer has to thoughtfully examine the received proposals, considering the above-mentioned facts about approaches to quotation practiced by cloud providers.

The customer has to thoughtfully examine the received proposals, considering the above-mentioned facts about approaches to quotation practiced by cloud providers.

It might turn out that the proposal selected by the customer as the most profitable is not so appealing. As a result, the customer may be disappointed with the cloud provider they have chosen and their customer service, and they might also sign a contract under unfavorable circumstances, especially when the project must be launched urgently, and there is no time to rebid.

There are still a lot of challenges and room for improvement in customer treatment in the cloud services market. It is recommended for cloud providers to analyze their customer communications through the eyes of the customer. Then, they will be able to achieve high customer satisfaction rates.

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How we optimized customer data center management

Data center is a complex IT and engineering object, which requires professionalism at all levels of management: from managers to technical specialists and executors of maintenance works. Here's how we helped our client put operational management in corporate data centers in order.
 

Taras Chirkov, Head of Data Center in St. Petersburg  in St. Petersburg 

Konstantin Nagorny, chief engineer of data center in St. Petersburg.  in St. Petersburg 

Data center is a complex IT and engineering object, which requires professionalism at all levels of management: from managers to technical specialists and executors of maintenance works. Here's how we helped our client put operational management in corporate data centers in order.  

Management is in the lead 

The most advanced and expensive IT equipment will not bring the expected economic benefits if proper processes of engineering systems operation in the data center, where it is located, are not established.  

The role of reliable and productive data centers in today's economy is constantly growing along with the requirements for their uninterrupted operation. However, there is a big systemic problem on this front.  

A high level of "uptime" - failure-free operation of a data center without downtime - depends very much on the engineering team that manages the site. And there is no single formalized school of data center management.  

And there is no single formalized school of data center management.    

Nationwide  

In practice, the situation with the operation of data centers in Russia is as follows.  

Data centers in the commercial segment usually have certificates confirming their management competence. Not all of them do, but the very specifics of the business model, when a provider is responsible to the client for the quality of service, money and reputation in the market, obligates them to own the subject. 

The segment of corporate data centers that serve companies' own needs lags far behind commercial data centers in terms of operational quality. The internal customer is not treated as carefully as the external customer, not every company understands the potential of well-configured management processes. 

Finally, government departmental data centers - in this regard, they are often unknown territory due to their closed nature. An international audit of such facilities is understandably impossible. Russian state standards are just being developed.  

This all translates into a "who knows what" situation. "Diverse" composition of operation teams composed of specialists with different backgrounds, different approaches to the organization of corporate architecture, different views and requirements to IT departments.  

There are many factors that lead to this state of affairs, one of the most important is the lack of systematic documentation of operational processes. There are a couple of introductory articles by Uptime Institute which give an idea of the problem and how to overcome it. But then it's necessary to build the system by your own efforts. And not every business has enough resources and competence for that.  ⠀⠀  

Meanwhile, even a small systematization of management processes according to industry best practices always yields excellent results in terms of improving the resilience of engineering and IT systems.  

Case: through thorns to the relative order 

Let's illustrate by the example of an implemented project. A large international company with its own data center network approached us. The request was for help to optimize the management processes at three sites where IT systems and business-critical applications are deployed.  

The company had recently undergone an audit of its headquarters and received a list of inconsistencies with corporate standards with orders to eliminate them. We were brought in as a consultant for this as a bearer of industry competence: we have been developing our own data center management system and have been educating on the role of quality in operational processes for several years.  

Communication with the client's team began. The specialists wanted to get a well-established system of data center engineering systems operation, documented on the processes of monitoring, maintenance and troubleshooting. All this had to ensure optimization of the infrastructure component in terms of IT equipment continuity.  

And here began the most interesting part.  

Know thyself 

To assess the level of data centers in terms of compliance with standards, you need to know the exact requirements of the business to IT systems: what is the level of internal SLA, the allowable period of equipment downtime, etc.  

It became clear right away that the IT department did not know exactly what the business wanted. There were no internal criteria of service quality, no understanding of the logic of their own infrastructure.  

Colleagues simply had no idea what the permissible downtime for IT-related operations was, what the optimal system recovery time in case of a disaster was, or how the architecture of their own applications was structured. For example, we had to figure out whether a "crash" of one of the data centers would be critical to the application, or if there were no components affecting the application.  

Without knowing such things, it is impossible to calculate any specific operational requirements. The client recognized the problem and increased coordination between IT and the business to develop internal requirements and establish relationships to align operations.  

Once an understanding of the IT systems architecture was achieved, the team was able to summarize the requirements for operations, contractors, and equipment reliability levels.  

Improvements in the process 

Our specialists traveled to sites to assess infrastructure, read existing documentation, and checked the level of compliance of data center projects with actual implementation.  

Interviews with the responsible employees and their managers became a separate area of focus. They told what and how they do in different work situations, how the key processes of engineering systems' operation are arranged.  

After starting the work and getting acquainted with the specifics of the task the client "gave up" a little: we heard the request "just to write all the necessary documentation", quickly and without deep diving into the processes.  

However, proper optimization of data center "engineering" management implies the task to teach people to properly assess the processes and write unique documentation for them based on the specifics of the object.  

It is impossible to come up with a working document for a specific maintenance area manager - unless you work with him at the site continuously for several months. Therefore this approach was rejected: We found local leaders who were willing to learn themselves and lead their subordinates.  

Having explained the algorithm of documents creation, requirements to their contents and principles of instructions ecosystem organization, for the next six months we controlled the process of detailed writing of documentation and step-by-step transition of the personnel to work in a new way. 

This was followed by a phase of initial support for work on the updated regulations, which lasted one year in a remote format. Then we moved on to training and drills - the only way to put the new material into practice.  

What's been done 

In the process, we were able to resolve several serious issues.  

First of all, we avoided double documentation, which the client's employees feared. To this end, we combined in the new regulations the regulatory requirements applied to various engineering systems as standard (electrics, cooling, access control), with industry best practices, creating a transparent documentation structure with simple and logical navigation.   

The principle of "easy to find, easy to understand, easy to remember" was complemented by the fact that the new information was linked to the old experience and knowledge of the employees. 

Next, we reshuffled the staff of service engineers: several people turned out to be completely unprepared for the change. The resistance of some was successfully overcome in the course of the project through the demonstration of benefits, but a certain percentage of employees turned out to be untrained and unresponsive to new things.  

But we were surprised by the company's frivolous attitude to its IT infrastructure: from the lack of redundancy of critical systems to the chaos in the structure and management.  

In 1.5 years the engineering systems management processes have been pumped up to the level that allowed the company's specialists to successfully report "for quality" to the auditors from the headquarters.  

With the support of the operating component development pace the company will be able to pass any existing certification of data centers from leading international agencies.  

Summary 

In general, the prospects of consulting in the field of operational management of data centers, in our opinion, are the brightest.  

The process of digitalization of the economy and the public sector is in full swing. Yes, there will be a lot of adjustments in the launch of new projects and plans for the development of old ones, but this will not change the essence - the operation should be improved at least to improve the efficiency of already built sites.  

The main problem here: many managers do not understand what thin ice they are walking on, not paying proper attention to this point. The human factor is still the main source of the most unpleasant accidents and failures. And it needs to be explained.  

Government data center projects are also becoming more relevant now and require increased attention in terms of operations: the scope of government IT systems is growing. Here, too, the development and introduction of a system of standardization and certification of sites will be required.  

When the requirements to public data centers in Russia at the level of legislation will be reduced to a standard, it can be applied to commercial data centers, including for the placement of public IT resources.  

The work in this area is ongoing, we are participating in this process in consultation with the Ministry of Digital and by building competencies for teaching courses on data center operation at the ANO Data Center. There is not much experience on such tasks in Russia, and we believe that we should share it with colleagues and clients. 

Choosing a cloud provider in Russia: Through the eyes of the customer

BEST, money transfer and payments operator

business challenge

The customer faced a technical issue with a persistent BGP session flag with Linxdatacenter hardware. We examined the problem and found out that one of customer’s hosts was under a DDoS attack.

Because of the distributed nature of the attack, traffic couldn’t be filtered effectively, and disconnecting the host from the external network wasn’t an option. The attack stopped after changes in the server configuration, but resumed the day after. A 5.5 Gbps attack overloaded the junctions with internet providers, affecting other Linx Cloud users. To mitigate the effects of the attack, we employed a dedicated DDoS protection service.

Solution

To ensure the continuous availability of resources hosted in Linx Cloud, we rerouted all the customer’s traffic through StormWall Anti-DDoS system. The attack was stopped within half an hour. To prevent future cyberattacks, we organized all connections to the customer’s resources through the StormWall network.

client:

BEST, money transfer and payments operator

business challenge

The customer faced a technical issue with a persistent BGP session flag with Linxdatacenter hardware. We examined the problem and found out that one of customer’s hosts was under a DDoS attack.

Because of the distributed nature of the attack, traffic couldn’t be filtered effectively, and disconnecting the host from the external network wasn’t an option. The attack stopped after changes in the server configuration, but resumed the day after. A 5.5 Gbps attack overloaded the junctions with internet providers, affecting other Linx Cloud users. To mitigate the effects of the attack, we employed a dedicated DDoS protection service.

Solution

To ensure the continuous availability of resources hosted in Linx Cloud, we rerouted all the customer’s traffic through StormWall Anti-DDoS system. The attack was stopped within half an hour. To prevent future cyberattacks, we organized all connections to the customer’s resources through the StormWall network.

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