March 18, 2013

How to Choose a Cloud Computing Provider: 10 Questions You Must Ask

Let’s face it- there are a lot of Cloud Computing providers out there, and they all have their own definitions of the Cloud, service standards, etc. With so many options, how will you find a provider that’s right for your organization? When it comes to the Cloud, we believe in the importance of finding a great match. Our objective with this article is to give non-biased advice from a company backed by over 12 years of experience in this industry. Here are the ten questions we highly recommend you ask before selecting a Cloud Computing provider for your organization: 1. What is the Cloud provider’s 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, past performance is the ultimate measure of what your experience with them will be like. And remember that bigger isn’t always better; the more “well-known” companies don’t always necessarily have better downtime history records. 2. How will I access my data & applications? Will there be limitations on your application accessibility, or will you be able to access them anytime from anywhere? Also be knowledgeable about the difference between public circuit and private circuit, as well as bandwidth requirements such as QoS (making sure you have the bandwidth you need to function at a desired level). 3. How flexible is their Cloud? Is their solution scalable to fit the size/growth of your organization? Will their Cloud be able to fully support the applications your employees use and need? And the big one- is your Cloud customizable? Every business is different, and you shouldn’t have to be put into a “one-size-fits-all” mold. Your Cloud solution should be customized to fit your business and its needs. 4. What is the pricing structure? Typically the best structure is dynamic pricing based on needs, or a pay-as-you-go utility-based model. Things change, employees change, and organizations change, so there should be no locked-in prices. 5. What level of support can I expect? Support should be at your fingertips around-the-clock, year-round. Also 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. 6. What can you tell me about your data center? There are a lot of standardizations and certifications for data centers, and it will pay off to learn the basics about which are the most important 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. 7. Which parts of your Cloud are outsourced? When certain parts of the Cloud are outsourced, the less control that provider may have over their equipment and services. Do they outsource their facility, support, infrastructure, or services? 8. How secure is your Cloud? Security is everything in the Cloud Computing world. It is the number one concern for most adopters, and for good reason. Find out as much about a potential Cloud provider’s security measures as possible- What is their security breach history? How secure is employee access (For example, do they perform background checks of employees? And who will have access to your company’s data when it’s in the Cloud?) Do they use encryption? In our experience, security must be seen in three layers: physical, logical, and methodology. Without any one of those, security will not be complete, or long-lived. First, physical security deals with the physical safety of data centers and their servers. For example, what measures are in place to protect intruders from gaining access to the server room, are there measures to protect the building against natural disasters, etc.? The second component is logical security, which protects the behind-the-scenes technology. There must be firewalls, anti-hacking measures, coding, and much more to prevent breaches. And the last piece of the puzzle is the methodical layer, which refers to the human factor of security. (I.e. Is your password written down on that piece of paper you misplaced, are your employees trustworthy, etc.?) 9. What are my guarantees? Know their service guarantees, performance metrics (which should be explained in the SLA), and termination options. If the Cloud provider doesn’t deliver as promised, are you locked in to a contract? 10. Can I 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 the lifelines of your organization. So before diving in head-first into the Cloud, take the time to do your research, and find out the answers to these questions. In doing so, you’ll find the best match Cloud provider 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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