What should I look for in a cloud services supplier?

CRN estimates that cloud computing expenditure by small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) will approach one hundred billion dollars by 2014. That is a big number and there are some key reasons for this change from running applications on an in-house computer or server to an internet-based system. From increased flexibility and improved security, to reduced costs and remote access, the cloud provides an ideal solution for established businesses, franchised operations and start-up businesses which are looking to increase IT capacity or capabilities, without having to buy expensive kit, dish out hefty capital and maintenance costs, or deal with any harmful and unexpected system downtime.

Furthermore, recent research carried out by Rackspace Hosting in the UK and US, with the assistance of Manchester Business School, found that among the survey of 1,300 executives the cloud is seen as having the potential for far more than just saving money, because it is viewed as actually putting in place the foundations for the next entrepreneurial boom … But what should your fledgling or established company actually look for in a cloud services supplier? Where do you even begin? And what on earth is the cloud in the first place?

Types of cloud services

First of all, even though you are likely to know all about the cloud and what it entails, we are going to enjoy a brief recap of what the different types of services are:

  • IaaS: Infrastructure as a Service provides virtual hardware like storage software platforms and raw processors, so that they do not need to be physically situated in an office.
  • PaaS: Platform as a Service provides the resources necessary for SMEs to create their own programmes and software, including a programming environment, operating system and database.
  • SaaS: Software as a Service provides applications that are ready to use and able to be run remotely, saving on installation processes and providing value to small businesses.

Choosing a cloud services supplier

The market is continuing to grow and new entrants are coming to light more and more. But which services provider is most suited to your business model and is going to ultimately increase the efficiency of your business? What metrics do they use? Do their definitions of performance sit with your own?

Questions. Questions. Questions.

They are essential and need answering when making a decision.

Evaluate the provider

A business must identify a services provider with the full range of environments for its workloads; whether it is moderately static, fluctuated or unpredictable, and whether the data is to be proprietary or industry-regulated. In addition, you need to choose a provider that offers a foundation for your future cloud strategy. These are the specific characteristics a business should look for in a provider.

  • Flexibility: There should be a range of options in terms of security and performance so as to meet a business’ needs. Also, choose a provider that enables the efficient management of workloads over multiple environments.
  • The fine print: A properly read service level agreement will make sure that issues like outages are understood and do not become ‘permissible’ shocks down the line.
  • Security: The safety of a business’ data and information is essential, so choose a provider that thinks beyond firewalls. Choose one with measures to protect against Internet attacks and that has clear administrative access. You also need assurance that your provider will abide by laws governing the personal information of your customers.*
  • Product: Is the product easy to use and will it meet your current and future business goals?
  • Transition: How much support will be provided during the phase of transition, and what level of interruption will there be to your schedule?

Trust factors

Trust is a word with many connotations but in terms of choosing a cloud services provider, it is about having faith in placing your business’ assets in the hands of an external company. So, what trust factors should you look for:

  • History: What is the history of the provider? The system may be relatively new to the market but the matters it resolves are not new by any means. Does the provider have a history of managing data centres? Are their customers happy and how many of them are there?
  • Forward-thinking strategy: There are more and more cloud services providers entering the market, but you must always invest in one that has an evolving business model and which is leading the trends.
  • Support: You want a services provider that will be with you every step of the way, including the training of existing and new consultants at your company. Select a provider that offers the standards of customer service you are accustomed to.

Your choice

In the end it comes down to your decisions as a business owner, taking into account current and future needs. There is no right or wrong answer – there are only the unique qualities and demands of your business, which must take priority when making this kind of decision. So good luck, and as long as you do the proper research and keep in mind your business needs, the cloud can be the next effective step for your business.