How to Choose the Right Cloud Vendor

Cloud computing

More and more now we are seeing businesses turn to the cloud to get an edge over their competitors. There are many advantages to moving your business into the cloud, including reduced hardware costs from bring your own device initiatives; more readily available talent through remote working and devices that pick up where you left off on another computer. These can all have positive impacts on your business and workflow.

Moving to the cloud also frees up your IT workers, as your chosen cloud vendor will take care of things like security, tech support, data backups and server maintenance. There is still a hesitation amongst some towards taking the leap to cloud however, as they don’t know what questions to ask when shopping around. So here’s a handy hotlist of questions to ask that’ll put your head firmly in the cloud.

What services do you require from your cloud vendor?

Vendors can offer you all sorts of services, including:

·         Storage (Video, audio, simple data etc) Dropbox, ZipCloud and JustCloud are all popular examples

·         Remote desktops – Extrasys and Bomgar

·         Accounting – Quickbooks, Freshbooks, Kashflow

·         CRM (Customer Relations Management) - Salesforce, Goldmine

A Brief Definition of Cloud Computing

There are three basic types of cloud offering that you’re likely to come across when shopping for your service:

cloud layers
  • SaaS (Software as a Service)
  • IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service)
  • PaaS (Platform as a Service)

By far the most popular model as yet is SaaS, which is basically hosted software applications stored away from the business premises in a data centre. This can be as simplistic as email, or as sophisticated as virtualised desktops. IaaS allows businesses to have an IT infrastructure hosted in a data centre, without the need for huge capital expenditure when it comes to servers and other equipment. PaaS is similar to SaaS, but offers more, including the ability to host operating systems and develop application off site.

Decide What you Need

What you want from your vendor will also determine how much you pay. A full service vendor will obviously be much more expensive than a vendor that specialises in one area. Also, keep in mind that you only want to be paying for services that you need. It’s always worth approaching a company that you like about a reduced service agreement, sometimes they’ll be open to this if it gets them your business and you look like you might expand in the future.

How much security do you need?

No matter what kind of a business you run, the security of both your own and your customer’s data is paramount. Security should always be a consideration when moving business processes to the cloud, but the level of that security will be determined by the kind of business you’re running:

·         Basic security measures would be necessary for small businesses that don’t store customer details

·         Medium security is important for enterprises that take customer information such as credit card and personal address details

·         High security is essential for any business that handles sensitive data like banks or security companies

Bear in mind that it’s very likely any cloud vendor that you choose will more than likely have better security than you do at your business premises. Data centres tend to have a robust data recovery process, have carried out all of the necessary risk management procedures and have physical as well as cyber security solutions.

Many small to medium sized businesses also tend to fail when it comes to backing up data effectively; again, this is not something that you should need to worry about when choosing a vendor, but do ask questions:

  • What security measures are in place
  • Can you see a copy of the risk management/disaster recovery documents
  • What’s covered at SLA level with regard to security
  • Are regular audits carried out
  • What certification does the vendor hold

What’s the server performance like?

Performance can be a killer for remote and local workers alike. If they can’t access what they need as quickly or faster than they would have were they working in the office, then it’s unlikely you’ll reap the benefits of cloud computing. A business is looking for the best performing servers it can afford that deliver the best possible results. The adoption of cloud services should make your business’ infrastructure run better than it would without it.

Performance and security are perhaps the two most important things to consider when choosing a cloud vendor.

Can they scale their service?

This question can save you a lot of hassle in the long run. As your business grows you need to be able to grow your cloud presence with it, so make sure that the vendor is capable of expanding with you. Otherwise you may find yourself shopping for new vendors in a year.

How much help do they provide with setup?

Depending on how tech literate a company you are, this may not be a big deal. But most businesses have workers who would benefit from a comprehensive introduction to the new system. Some providers will send someone to educate your workers; others might just provide a downloadable guide for reference. The less time employees take to get up to speed with a new piece of technology the faster you can start reaping the benefits.

Customer service

Whilst you may want help introducing your workers to the cloud, you will definitely want good customer service in place if something goes wrong. Spending a little more money on good, immediate customer service can make a significant difference to your business if something goes wrong at crunch time. If it’s a Service Level Agreement (SLA) contract, then ask the vendor to specify exactly what their responsibilities are before you sign. For example, asking who is responsible for software updates and backup procedures – some may require you to carry these out remotely.

What systems have been put in place in the event of data loss?

There are few things as potentially disastrous to a business as data loss. You should make sure that the vendor you choose has excellent backup systems in place as well as a recovery plan should something go wrong.

Where is the data centre itself and how secure is it?

Location is something that’s become more important to many businesses in the wake of the NSA scandal and it’s thought that the story impacted badly on the US cloud industry. Location is important to you for speed and security, so choosing one local to Europe is advisable if you’re in the UK. This is especially true if you handle sensitive customer data, as different laws apply when you cross borders. Check out the size and scope of the data centre too; if a data bank is kept in a locked room at the back of an office, it’s going to be at much more risk to attack than a data bank in a specialised facility with security measures in place.

What’s the provider’s downtime history?

The lower this is, the better. Even the best cloud providers have occasional downtime, either planned or unplanned. So it’s all about how little time they spend out of action. For a business, any time the cloud is down is time you’re losing money, so it’s good to ask about downtime when considering a vendor.

Microsoft Hosted Exchange services promise 99.9% up time, couple that with its numerous data centres across the world, and you’ve got a very tempting package.

Will I be able to access the cloud anywhere?

If you have a BYOD policy then make sure that the vendor can service all the different types of device being used. If you can only access the cloud from specific devices then you lose a lot of the benefits of the cloud.

Cloud Vendor Pedigree

This encompasses a lot of what’s already been said, but it bears repeating. If a company is good, you should be able to tell from their customers. Look for vendors with big name clients that have been with them for an extended period of time. If a vendor has a lot of short-term clients who then move on to competitors, this likely means the vendor is in some way unsatisfactory.

These questions should help you and your business move towards a cloud vendor well suited to your goals. Remember that, above all, function, security and performance are the key features of a great vendor. Find those things and you’re well on track for successful deployment to the cloud.

Confused by the cloud? Do you need advice on deployment or even consultation on building a data centre? Get in touch with us today to chat about how we can help your business when it comes to cloud computing.

Image: Perspecsys