In the not so distant past, businesses had but two options when it came to storing and maintaining their precious digital data. They could either store all information on site, hoping and praying that their local backup system and computers didn’t fail, or they could invest in a costly dedicated server, paying the high fees associated with maintenance, setup, and monitoring. Luckily, there is a new kid on the digital storage block, and it comes in the form of the mysterious “cloud”.
Cloud services have a number of benefits for businesses of all sizes, although it can be a bit intimidating for those with a set way of doing things to take the plunge when it comes to handling valuable files and information. Are you interested in making the switch from your existing system to cloud services, and you’re not sure where to start? The first and most important consideration is which cloud service provider to use. In order to find the best provider for your business’s needs, you need to know the right questions to ask. I have compiled a list of these all-important questions for you so that you can approach potential cloud providers with your eyes wide open.
- What type of Cloud services are provided by the company? Although this sounds obvious, this is the best place to start because if they cannot do what you need them to do, there is no point in asking the rest of the questions. You need to first decide what you need your cloud provider to do, and then determine if the company in question is capable of doing so. Are you looking for simple data storage, E-mail services or web hosting? Cloud services are immensely varied, ranging from data backups to full-service web hosting to electronic sales programs. First decide what you need, and then find out if your preferred cloud provider covers it.
- How long has the company been handling cloud data? I know, I know – the new guy may very well be the best out there. Even so, I would still look for a company that knows its way around a cloud and has been dealing with cloud services for a long time. Ask about other companies who use their cloud services, as well. Because cloud services are fairly new, the more experience the better, in my opinion.
- What type of security is offered? Imagine that you are running a doctor’s office and are looking for a way to store all of the medical records electronically. Security is not a plus – it’s a must. You need to find out how your data is being protected within the cloud. Look for things like anti-virus protection, firewalls, data encryption, and security audit scheduling. Aside from these obvious electronic measures, I would also ask about the security of the data centers themselves in addition to the way employees are screened. Remember that everyone who has access to your data has the potential to misuse it, so security is of utmost importance.
- How and what is charged for the cloud services? One of the best features of the cloud is that it can be as big or as small as you need it to be. This allows for customers to pay for what they need and increase the demands on the cloud as necessary, making cloud computing much more affordable than expensive dedicated servers. That being said, not all cloud companies are scrupulous in their billing practices, so you need to look out for yourself. Avoid any companies that require a large upfront payment. You want something that is pay as you go from the get-go and that has billing practices that jibe with your preferences.
- Are the cloud services scalable? This goes along with #4. Many businesses choose cloud services because they can grow or contract as needed, paying only for the services and space they use. If your business is small but anticipates a lot of growth in the near future, make sure that your cloud service provider can handle it with ease. Look at the storage space they offer and what happens if you need more of it.
- What customer support services are offered? If your data is going to be handled by someone else, then you need to know that they are only a phone call, E-mail, or online chat away at all hours of the day. Ask about things like response time, where the customer support is based, and how easy it is to bump up your question or issue to the next level (you know, the old “Can I speak to your supervisor” question).
- Where are the data centers located? Just because you’re dealing with the cloud doesn’t mean that your data is floating around in outer space. Data is housed somewhere, and you want to know that it is safe. Find out where the data centers are physically located, and pay attention to things like “disaster-safe zones” and other safety features. Most quality companies will be all too happy to boast about their data centers and the safety of their locations.
- What are the ramifications if your data is lost? God forbid something horrible happens, you want to know that your cloud provider has redundancies in place to backup your data. Also, if there was some type of incident in which all of your data was completely wiped out, you need to know that your cloud provider will adequately compensate you for your loss in some way. While they may or may not tell you, it wouldn’t hurt to ask if they have ever had a massive data loss issue before and how they handled it.
- What are the downtime statistics? An advantage of using the cloud is the lack of downtime, because data is not tied to a single dedicated server. For this reason, you want a cloud provider that has a fantastically low downtime statistic so you can remain up and running as continuously as possible. Luckily, most cloud providers list these numbers proudly on their websites and advertisements, but if they don’t, be concerned – and ask for details.
- How do I get started? If the answers to the nine questions above are satisfactory to you, then the last natural question is how to get started and what the setup process entails. Ask about setting up new users, how to save data to the cloud, and other initial setup details. You also need details about accessing the cloud, both for administrators and other users.