How To Choose a Cloud Provider for Your Small or Medium-Size Business: Part Two

October 2015: Choosing the right cloud provider for your business can be one of the best decisions you make — so you need to know what to look for!

Last month we talked about cloud provider performance, responsiveness, security and customization — critical stuff. Now we’re getting down to details. As you work through your list of possible cloud providers, evaluate them on these five service areas:

1. Location
The data you put in the cloud has to live somewhere — but where should that be? If it lives overseas when your business locations are Stateside, think about the time it takes for your data to travel back and forth, day in and day out. Location affects performance and security, and sometimes there are geopolitical issues to think about, too. Cloud providers should tell you where they will keep your data — which state, for example, if in the U.S. — and in what type of data center. Data centers are ranked by four tiers, with the higher tiers being the best because they have the most redundancies built in.


  • You want a cloud provider with a Tier Three (or higher) data center that’s located in the same country and region as your operations.

2. Scalability
The ability to scale up and scale down quickly is important to some businesses but not so much to others. For example, retailers with online stores need a lot more capacity during the holidays — like 100 times the capacity. Since they do the lion’s share of their annual business in those few weeks, they need a provider that can add a lot of capacity as fast as demand increases. Enormous public clouds like Amazon and Google fit the bill even though their availability may not be perfect. On the other hand, most businesses typically max out growth at about 20–25% per year — a steady upward climb. For them, a cloud provider that guarantees availability and processing power for running critical operations (like payroll) is more important.

But this doesn’t mean your businesses shouldn’t care about scalability if you’re a steady grower. You might want to increase capacity quickly, for a short time, so you can run tests, do analyses or see how your company can handle a huge increase in business if you land that big new client.

    • You want a cloud provider with a subscription policy that matches your capacity needs.


3. Reliability
Reliability is at the heart of performance and security yet it’s important for backups and sustainability as well. A reliable cloud provider will either back up your data daily or hourly — if they don’t, they should make it very clear that you need to be doing your own backups. A reliable cloud provider will also follow good business practices. You can’t run your part of your business in the cloud if your cloud provider suddenly disappears or declares bankruptcy. Look at the provider’s reputation and how long they’ve been in business. Because, ultimately, the party responsible for reliability is yours through the decisions you make.

    • You want a cloud provider with a good reputation and a transparent backup policy.


4. Transportability  
How easy is it for you to get your data back from a cloud provider? Your business needs a Plan B! Not only do you need to be able to backup data to another location whenever you want. Essential to your Disaster Recovery Plan (DRP), you need to be able to easily switch cloud providers in case you change your mind. Make sure there’s a policy that assures you stay in control of your data — read the fine print!

    • You want a cloud provider that gives you access to your data and makes it easy for you to move it.


5. Pricing
A lot of companies think they’re going to save big money by moving to the cloud because cloud pricing structures can make services seem inexpensive. Variable pricing models from Amazon, Google and Microsoft sell services based on a separate fee for each type of service, like processing, storage, RAM and moving data. This can add up. And while calculators like Amazon’s help you anticipate monthly costs, even managed IT companies like Leapfrog can’t always provide accurate numbers to plug in — usage changes monthly!

Capacity pricing models are much simpler. They reserve a certain amount of capacity for your company and charge you for that. If you get close to your allotment, you can either trim down your usage or buy more capacity at a fixed price. User-based pricing models are also simple. They charge you for the number of people using the platform. Examples include Adobe, Salesforce, Office 365, and most Software as a Service (SaaS) offerings that are strictly application-based.

You want a cloud provider with a clear pricing structure that makes sense for your business.

There’s a good reason Leapfrog looks at pricing last. Our frogs believe the best cloud service for your business is the one that best matches the specific application you want to run in the cloud — price is only part of that. Determine your cloud provider shortlist based on your requirements and then, with pricing as one of the determinants, have your team eliminate contenders until you have your winner. Then you can leap up to the cloud with confidence!

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