Thinking about moving your company’s data to the “cloud,” and/or outsourcing your data for someone else to manage or host or perhaps switching your provider? Then you had best read a new report out from research firm Gartner.

Before any IT executive or corporate suit moves his/her venture into the “cloud” and outsourcing IT gear for management at a service provider, doing a lot of homework is simply the only way to make a wise decision. 

Saving money and cutting jobs can’t be the only reasons. Too much of a company’s existence is being put at risk.

Gartner takes an in-depth look at the “managed hosting” business, and it begins with a very wise warning:

“Managed hosting solutions are offered on physical and virtualized infrastructures, including cloud infrastructure as a service. This market is mature, but cloud capabilities are disruptive, so vendors must be chosen with care.”

This report is very interesting in what companies it studies (and by omission, who isn’t included) and where the firms stand in the highly regarded “Magic Quadrant” rankings. 

For example, AT&T and Verizon are just two of four “Leaders,” the others being CenturyLink’s Savvis and Rackspace.

IBM, whose “cloud” and data strategy led UBS to recently rate its stock as a “buy,” doesn’t crack the top quarter but is listed as a “visionary.”

Navisight, owned by Time Warner Cable, is rated as a “challenger.”

However, not all players are included in the report. Windstream Hosted Solutions, which has a large national operation built around Raleigh-based Hosted Solutions which it acquired, was considered, Gartner noted. (Not mentioned are Charlotte-based Peak 10, which recently landed big deals with Red Hat and Chiquita, or other N.C.-based firms or companies growing quickly here such as Sentinel.)

Here’s how Gartner describes the business services offered:

  • E-business hosting. Managed hosting for e-marketing sites, e-commerce sites, software as a service (SaaS) applications and similar modern websites and Web-based applications. These workloads are often complex, and are associated with a high rate of change in systems and application infrastructure.
  • Web-based business application hosting. Managed hosting for corporate intranets and Web-based applications delivered to users primarily within the enterprise. The applications may be commercial software or in-house-developed applications; workloads are often relatively light, and do not have a high rate of change.
  • Enterprise application hosting. Managed hosting for the infrastructure underlying large commercial software applications, such as those of Oracle, SAP and Lawson. These workloads are often complex and require specialized knowledge to operate optimally, but do not have a high rate of change.

Praise, Caution for IBM

Big Blue operates a huge, new data center in RTP and recently announced plans to invest $1 billion in expanding flash memory capabilities at its global centers. (RTP isn’t on that list.)

Gartner praises IBM for its “IBM’s SmartCloud Enterprise+ platform.” It “serves as the foundation for the evolution of its e-business hosting and Applications on Demand businesses, is used in multiple service offerings beyond managed hosting. This makes it a strategic investment for the company.”

The firm also noted IBM ”is one of the few managed hosting providers that can offer infrastructure capabilities outside the x86 sector, namely for AIX/pSeries systems” and can “deliver enterprise applications like those of SAP on its cloud platform.”

However, under “cautions, Gartner says SmartCloud Entgerprise+ is relatively new and “With a 99.9% SLA [service level agreement], IBM’s SmartCloud Enterprise+ platform is on the low side, compared with other hosting offerings, and below the 99.95% typically seen in most IaaS [infrastructure as a service] platforms.”

AT&T Review

AT&T, which is building a big data center in North Carolina, is praised for its ability to “manage highly complex e-business infrastructures, and has particular expertise in e-commerce and enterprise application solutions. It can also manage complex enterprise application hosting, in synergy with its application management business.”

Its own network is a “differentiator” when “network access is a heavily weighted criterion, or where end-to-end service management with SLAs is required.”

But under “cautions,” Gartner points out that “customers frequently express frustration with AT&T’s billing processes.” Plus, its “operations processes are heavyweight in nature. This level of operational rigor can be beneficial from the perspective of the long-term stability of environments and the management of the complexities of change and risk, but it quickly becomes burdensome when customers want to be more agile and to move more quickly.”

Verizon Review

Verizon, which operates a big data operation in Cary, is praised for the integration of its own services with those of Terremark, which was acquired in 2011.

“Verizon and Terremark both have long and successful histories in the managed hosting business,” the report says. “Verizon Terremark is one of the few North American providers with strong Latin American capabilities, largely due to the company’s NAP [network access point] of the Americas peering hub in Florida, a key landing point for fiber routes from South America.”

Like AT&T, Verizon can use its network as a differentiator. 

However, Gartner notes, that Verizon “has yet to consolidate all its service offerings in a single portal. This means users have to sign into different portals to manage different infrastructure stacks.”

Then there is SLA. “[I]ts current 99.5% availability SLA is below that of its peers.”

The full report can be read online.