August 12, 2011

Channel Insider: How to Vet Potential Cloud Provider Partners

As cloud computing continues to take the IT industry by storm, it’s getting harder and harder to tell the difference between a good cloud partner and a “me, too” provider. Reminiscent of the dot com days, companies are popping up everywhere claiming to be cloud computing experts. In this environment, it is more important than ever to do your homework and sort out good, reliable companies from those that just want to cash in on the impending financial windfall.

When trusting valuable corporate information to a cloud provider, it is vital to know exactly who is handling your information. Look to the cloud provider’s past performance with multiple customers—ones that have been with them for five or more years.  Any cloud provider that you are considering should have a track record of success for all its customers.

Batten down the hatches: Is my data safe on the cloud?

When considering moving to a cloud, the number one question customers usually ask is, “Will my data be secure?”  With the numerous security breaches in 2011, it is imperative to understand where and how the prospective cloud provider handles and stores data. Look for a cloud partner that owns its network, equipment and data centers. Many companies are outsourcing and reselling from third party providers, creating additional points of failure and extra layers of risk for the consumer.

Data centers should be based in the United States, especially when dealing with security and government contracting customers, to ensure that appropriate rights and laws are enforced. The data centers should also be level-4, SAS 70-compliant with multiple redundancies to ensure data safety, security and disaster recovery.

Another question that is top-of-mind for many customers is, “What will happen to my data if the cloud provider closes its doors?” Many large companies may appear to be financially stable based on quarterly earnings or annual revenues, but are really securing funding from investors rather than the profits of their own companies. This is why it’s important to look for a company that is financially sound and debt free.

It’s not the size, but the service that counts

It is a common misconception that a large or well-known company is the better choice as a cloud partner. However, it is oftentimes the smaller, lesser-known companies that offer better customer service and support. For instance, if you call the helpline, will you be greeted by the familiar voice of a live person, or will you have to enter your account number for the automated system? What are the chances that your next trouble shooting call will be answered by Bill Gates or Steve Jobs? Look for a company whose CEO talks directly to his or her customers, and technicians who work directly for the cloud provider, not outsourced through a third party.

Finding the perfect fit

There is a 99.99 percent chance that you don’t have an unlimited IT budget. This typically means limiting the customization for any solution that you want to implement. However, finding a cloud provider that offers the flexibility of utility-based pricing means you can take into consideration both corporate and industry challenges and requirements instead of trying to fit into a cookie-cutter solution from a big-name player.  This will not only ensure you receive a solution that overcomes the challenges specific to you and your customers, but also creates the opportunity to leverage applications that your company already employs. Look for a cloud provider that has the capability of hosting your company or industry-specific software for added flexibility.

The Perfect Storm: When Reliability is Key

And finally, the most important point to consider is ensuring the reliability and uptime of the network.  When companies such as Amazon are experiencing repeated outages, it’s important to find a cloud provider that can not only show a track record of uptime, but guarantee it into the future. The cloud provider’s network should take advantage of leading technologies and industry-best practices for ensuring near 100 percent uptime and accessibility to all your valuable corporate information anytime and anywhere. With all the companies in the market, it’s hard to determine where to hold your allegiances. However, there is no better endorsement than that of a satisfied, long-term customer.

Do your homework before picking a cloud partner and you won’t be left out in the rain."

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