So you’ve finally decided to ascend to the cloud, have you? Great! Making the move to cloud hosting is a smart decision for businesses of all sizes. Your data will be stored securely in a remote location that’s monitored by hosting professionals all day every day.
Tonight you can sleep a little bit easier knowing your servers will soon be running smoothly without any oversight from your internal staff – and you’ll save money and space by avoiding purchasing all of the hardware yourself. But it’s not time for those pleasant dreams just yet. Nope, before you can have this one less worry in your life you have to choose a cloud provider first. Spoiler warning: they’re not all the same.
Not everyone is a tech expert who understands all of the cloud jargon that’s floating around out there, and that’s OK. If you’re confused about who to pick as your cloud host, read on to find out what attributes you need to look for.
If you and your team aren’t cloud experts, then you’re obviously going to need someone who is. In fact, putting all of your faith in your cloud provider and letting them worry about issues like storage space and stability is one of the biggest benefits of transitioning away from local storage and into the cloud. But if you’re going to hand over control of your data, then you better know you’re handing it over to someone whom you can trust.
Funny thing about IT expertise – every cloud vendor you look at is going to say they have it. The good news is that many of them do, but you can’t just take their fluffy website marketing copy’s word for it. Ask them about it. Is the vendor using hardware that’s reliable and manufactured by prominent tech companies? Do they understand what you’re trying to accomplish with the cloud and how to make it happen. This is where you should let them ask you some questions. Don’t make it a one-way street; the more information you provide your host with, the better they’ll be able to explain how they’ll serve you and ultimately cater to your needs.
Another thing you should, no, need to ask any potential provider about is their ability to scale up and down depending on your fluctuating data needs. Think about it: how much storage space do you need? You might think you know, but the reality is that you do not. Sure, you might know exactly how many gigs you need right now – and that’s great if you do – but you cannot predict with 100 percent accuracy what your needs will be tomorrow.
You’re not trying to run a flat business. At least, you shouldn’t be if success is your goal. You want your business to grow, but the path to growth is not a straight line. There are unpredictable ups and downs along the way. For now, consider your type of business, how many employees and computers you have and what your data volume looks like. That will help your vendor to work with you on a good starting point, but it’ll be just that – a starting point. Your cloud servers need to be able to scale up and down as your data needs change. Find a cloud vendor that offers the flexibility you need for the future.
Is your server going to work? You assume it will, of course. You pay someone to set up cloud hosting for you with the expectation that everything will just work and work well all the time. But is that really the case with all of the vendors you’re considering going with?
Look into how long any potential cloud vendor has been in business, how big their data center(s) is, how big their staff is, who their clients are and, perhaps most importantly, whether or not they have a 24/7/365 IT team keeping an eye on things. Like everyone in business, you surely encounter your fair share of challenges in your professional life. News flash: so do cloud hosts. The important part is having a highly trained and qualified staff in place to tackle and overcome those challenges so that your servers keep running steadily.
Service Level Agreements (SLA)/Terms of Service (ToS)
Even if a vendor has the right equipment, the right facilities and the right people with the right training, you still have to look into how they’re going to leverage all of their “right stuff.” A good SLA/ToS will indicate precisely how the vendor will use its people and resources to deliver the kind of reliability and service your business needs.
“The SLAs in this domain are as critical as they have been in outsourcing,” Dr. Alea Fairchild, VP & Principal Analyst, Constellation Research tells First Biz. “The enterprise should confirm availability, reliability and level of control.”
Be sure to fully review any SLA before moving forward with a cloud host. Check to see what their guaranteed uptime is and what they’re offering if they fail to meet it. Additionally, don’t forget to consider their security commitments.
Is your data going to be safe when it’s floating around up there in the cloud? OK, so it won’t literally be just floating around in the middle of nowhere. Any reputable cloud vendor will have a secure hosting facility. But that’s just it – you need to find out whether or not the vendors you’re considering are reputable.
Hackers are constantly finding new ways to circumvent security measures and maliciously gain access to data. In fairness, this is a concern whether you’re doing your own hosting or having someone else do your hosting in the cloud. Your data is always at risk. Thankfully, a good cloud server provider is going to be more versed in cyber security than you are. It’s their job to be. Do at least some cursory research into what 256-bit encryption and Secure Socket Layer (SSL) are and ask any host you’re considering if they have both. Make sure your data will be secure both while it is in storage and when it’s being sent to and from the server.
When you need your data, you need it now, not later. All of the scalability, support and security in the world aren’t worth a whole lot if you can’t access your data quickly. Each cloud host’s uptime is reliant on the tier they’re offering, with higher number tiers signifying faster speeds. The difference in speeds can come down to only fractions of percentage points, but the technology behind those numbers is what’s important.
The highest tiers feature pre-emptive elements like redundancies and equipment that protects your data. Tier 1, for instance, basically means server rooms hosting data backups. Tier 4, meanwhile, tends to feature bleeding-edge power capabilities and HVAC temperature control systems. These differentiations mitigate downtime, which means your servers will be operating at the best possible availability levels, giving you the speed you need.
Call them natural disasters. Call them acts of god. Call them just plain old bad luck. But whatever you’re going to call them, be sure you’re going to be able to recover from disasters. Blazing fast speeds rock. No question there. Thing is, alacrity is pretty useless if something like a hurricane or a distributed denial of service attack hits and takes your servers down.
Even large corporations have been victimized by such disasters, so there’s no way to achieve 100 percent vulnerability from them. Since downtime is not always preventable, make sure your cloud data is securely backed up and a viable disaster recovery plan is in place to get it back online in a hurry when trouble strikes.
If your cloud data is available quickly, safely and securely with a team of professionals monitoring it, then you’re going to be in great shape. So make sure it can before you choose your vendor!
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