October 17, 2013

Best questions to ask any potential cloud service provider

While the concept of cloud computing is consistent among cloud providers, there are many variable elements to the services they offer. Business consumers should be informed about where these differences can be seen, and how they could affect the overall quality of their IT solution.

We’ve compiled a list of tough questions that cut through any sales script. If you need straight answers, ask these questions:

1. What security measures do you employ at your data centers? There are a lot of standardizations for data centers, and it will pay off to learn about which are the most crucial for data security and compliance. Qualities to look for in a data center include the SSAE-16 standard, tier rating (tier-4 is the best), geographic redundancy, and data redundancy. Any candidates you are considering to host your cloud should be able to explain, in detail, the security precautions they take. For example, Cetrom, a leading cloud service provider, has made this video available to the public about their data centers. They also offer additional information about data security here.

2. What are your customer support business hours? The most reliable cloud vendors do not keep standard business hours. Providing IT services to organizations is a full time job… and then some.  Business clients need their data to be secure and protected 24x7x365.  If the cloud service provider you are considering doing business with does not provide around-the-clock support, you may want to reconsider.

3. What managed services do you provide? Managed services are a large component of cloud computing for business users, but what are they? Basically, anything your cloud service provider oversees for your IT solution could be considered a managed service. For example, remotely monitoring your onsite equipment, as well as supporting your off-site hosted servers, would be a managed service. Similarly, any maintenance to your hosted environment including upgrades, updates, and renewing licensing permissions should be managed for you. Cloud vendors typically offer a variety of comprehensive services.

4. What happens if we aren’t happy with the service once we’ve made the switch? Migrating to a new IT solution is a big move for your company. If, after the environment goes live, you determine that the service is not for you, what are your options? The last thing you need at that point is an iron-clad contract binding you to the services you find unsatisfactory. Some vendors allow a grace period in which they will let you out of the contract if you give notice before that time is up. For example, Cetrom offers a unique six-month, No Hassle Guarantee in which customers can discontinue using their services (but with customer service like that, it does not happen often).

5. What should we expect involving the migration process? Migrating to a different IT platform is an involved process–for your IT provider. You have enough on your plate; the last thing you should be worried about is cloud migration getting in the way of conducting business. By asking about the migration process and associated timetable upfront, you will be able to assess how much downtime your business might experience. Any customer-service oriented cloud service provider will work to avoid unnecessary downtime and lend you peace of mind during the switch.

6. What is your downtime history? Downtime is unacceptable, period. It costs your company time and money, and isn’t that one of the benefits that made you consider the cloud in the first place? Ensure there are uptime guarantees in the SLA contract. Overall, a vendor’s past performance is the ultimate measure of what your experience with them will be like. Cetrom holds a twelve-year long track record of 99.9% uptime for our customers. In fact, we guarantee 99.9% uptime in our MSLA (Master Service Level Agreement).

7. Do you have experience in cloud computing for business models like mine? Every business is unique, from specialization to number of employees. Some even require industry-specific software applications. It is a smart business decision to choose an IT vendor who can offer a solution that is scalable to fit the size and growth of your organization. Their cloud must be able to fully support any applications your employees use and need. Most importantly, the vendor’s IT solution should be customizable to fit your business and its needs.

8. What level of support and customer service can we expect? With hosted IT services, you are trusting someone else to handle your your data; your life source. Support should be at your fingertips around-the-clock, year-round. Make note of their customer service model- are they customer-centric with proactive follow-up, fast response and resolution time? Do engineers answer their phones, or do they operate a call center? Customer service is key to success.

9. Which parts of your cloud are outsourced? If a provider outsources many aspects of their cloud solutions, they may have less control over their equipment and services. To a customer, this means trusting the vendor’s business partners which can directly affect your IT experience. However, not all vendors who outsource different cloud elements are unreliable. If you do your due diligence and study up on the provider’s business partners, you may be pleasantly surprised.

10. Can we talk to your customers? Go straight to the source- although one customer can’t always tell a complete story, talking to long-term customers is the absolute best way to get an accurate picture of a cloud provider’s history and standards.

Overall, trust but verify everything, assume nothing, and do your homework. Data and IT are at the center of your organization. So before diving head-first into the clouds, take the time to do your research, and find out the answers to these questions. In doing so, you’ll find the best match for you, and be able to fully realize all the benefits the cloud has to offer. With the right provider, you’ll be wondering why you hadn’t made the move sooner.

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