So you’ve decided your company needs to run its technology and systems mostly or entirely in the cloud. Congratulations. You’re in the same position as the high school boy who has decided to go to the prom. Going is one thing. The more important question is: With whom?
Over the last three years many small and midsize companies have recognized that the most economical, efficient and effective way to use and manage technology and systems is, for them, via cloud computing. But as many have discovered – and as those just now making that decision could learn if they’re not wise – that like potential prom dates, some cloud providers are more desirable than others.
So how do you choose?
Pay Attention to Guarantees
Most cloud providers tout their uptime and IT security performance stats. But not all offer ironclad, legal guarantees (service level agreements, or SLAs) that your cloud and network will be up most, if not all of the time. Beware of those that don’t. They avoid strong guarantees for good reason. And that suggests that you shouldn’t be doing business with them, unless reliability isn’t that important to you.
So what’s a realistic guarantee? In terms of uptime, anything less than 97 percent simply is non-competitive. And cloud uptime guarantees of 99 percent are both desirable and easily obtainable. Many high-quality providers promise 100-percent cloud uptime. For network uptime, guarantees should be either 100 percent or very near that.
To know if such guarantees are real or mere sales pitches, ask the provider to put it in legally-binding contract language, with clear financial penalties if they fall short and clear language defining what uptime is and isn’t and how it’s measured.
Also, ask for a list of current and former clients that you can interview about their experience. And check to see where their data centers are located. Are they in the same country and/or on the same power grids? If so, they’re both vulnerable to some of the same potential disruptions.
Similarly, if your cloud provider can’t provide a legal guarantee that your data is safe, you should consider another provider. The reality is that no cloud is cast-iron. And hackers can attack any cloud at any time. But your provider should have state-of-the-art backup technology in place and, at a minimum, should follow industry best practices in backing up and securing data.
Business Practices Matter – a Lot
Does the cloud provider have minimum business, financial and technology standards that its clients must meet? Or do they cut prices – and services – to maintain a constant, though perhaps weak, revenue stream?
Companies with weak or no security standards and practices sharing the same cloud and technologies that your company would be using could be a big problem for your company.
Price should never be the only factor in your decision. The adage “you get what you pay for” should be kept in mind.
It’s counter-intuitive, but rigid contracts and policies can be a big problem. Contracts and policies that require your company to interact with the provider’s cloud on the provider’s terms rather than how your company would prefer to interact with the cloud will limit the value you’ll get out of that cloud.
Who you deal with during the sale process matters. Is the salesperson strictly a gunslinger itching to get another notch on his handle and another commission? Or are the engineers and customer service people who your company will rely on over the long haul be involved in the sales, consulting and negotiations process, too?
Does the provider adhere to voluntary industry standards and certifications like SAS70/SSAE16? Do they submit their operations to regular audits to validate the quality of their services?
Customer Focus Is Critical
A customer-focused provider will typically be three things:
Flexible: They’ll work with your company to adapt and adjust its services as much possible to accommodate your company’s technology processes and needs.
Forthright: They’ll clearly state what the prices are for all services, and stick to it. Unexpected adds – nickel-and-diming – is an indicator that they low-balled the bid to get your business and plan to make it up with add-on charges. The methods for determining how and when your prices will be increased should be spelled out in the contract.
Always there: They’ll provide customer support when you need it and how you need. That means 24/7 service, if your company’s needs so require. And that means courteous, expert-level help that’s readily accessible, no matter the call volume the provider’s service desk is experiencing.
It’s a lot to think about. If your company has made the decision to consider cloud solutions, one good option is to enlist the help of third-party technology experts who have been there and done that many times over.