What should you look for in a cloud solution provider? Can the answer to this question — or answers to it — be distilled into a simple guide?
While there are an ever-increasing variety of cloud-based solutions – from storage, to e-mail, to salesforce management – there are some questions you should ask any potential provider. These will help you make the right choice for your business.
The first question to ask is, ‘Which cloud services do you provide?’ said Kim Lachance Shandrow, writing in a smart post for Entrepreneur magazine. Obviously, until you evaluate your business’ unique needs, you won’t be able to choose the solution that best fits.
“There are software-based cloud offerings, such as Dropbox for online document, photo and video storage. Intuit offers QuickBooks for online accounting. And there’s Salesforce for online customer relationship management (CRM),” Shandrow said. Aside from these application-specific tools, there are a number of vendors like Rackspace providing general purpose cloud solutions, from network infrastructure to hosted email to storage.
The second question to ask involves your chosen vendor’s pricing structure. Make sure you’re working with a provider that offers a “pay-as-you-go” pricing structure, and be extremely wary of any cloud provider that requires a significant upfront investment.
Shandrow quotes Mike Foreman, a general manager at AVG Technologies, an Amsterdam-based internet and mobile data security provider, who says that large upfront costs aren’t the norm when dealing with reputable cloud vendors. Instead, the best and brightest tend toward an a-la-carte pricing structure that allows you to add (or remove) services and functionality as needed.
The most important question to ask is “How secure is your cloud?” Though the vulnerabilities of cloud computing solutions have been mitigated over the last few years, it still should be your paramount concern, Shandrow said.
“Cloud providers should have several industry standard security measures in place and constantly update them,” Foreman says. If your chosen provider doesn’t include security measures like firewalls, anti-virus detection, multi-factor user authentication and data encryption, and routine security audits for your sensitive information, run, don’t walk, away.
You also should consider which of your cloud providers’ employees will have access to your data, and ensure the provider employs background checks to eliminate cybercriminals or identity thieves.
Security’s not limited to data integrity, breach, loss or theft, she said. Physical security at your cloud provider’s data center is also important. “You want to make sure you’re not doing business with a guy with a couple of servers in a spare room somewhere that could quite easily be accessed and compromised,” AVG’s Foreman said. He suggests asking how your potential provider would handle a natural disaster or deal with an attempted break-in by thieves.
Even with all these assurances, outages and downtime are a given in the IT industry. Whether due to a hardware or software failure or user error, you should ask your potential provider what type of customer support they offer. Your provider should guarantee technical support availability either online or by phone 24 hours a day, every day of the year, including holidays. You should also find out what the provider’s average response time and resolution time is for remediation, Shandrow said. Finally, ask if you’ll be working with knowledgeable, technically savvy engineers or untrained, scripted customer service representatives if you need support.
Moving your business operations like email and document storage to the cloud can cut costs, streamline your workflow and eliminate the need for in-house IT personnel and hardware. But the biggest benefit is peace of mind. Once you’ve chosen the right provider, you can concentrate on running your business leave security, maintenance, backup and support in the hands of your trusted team.
This is a special guest post by Sharonn Florentine. Sharon is a freelance writer who covers everything from holistic veterinary care to data center technology and occasionally blogs for cloud provider Rackspace Hosting.