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

September 2015: Choosing a cloud provider for your business is a lot more complicated than choosing one for your home — price is only one variable, expertise makes a difference and the ability to integrate with your current system is critical. And since most mature businesses run in multiple clouds, you’re not choosing one cloud provider, you’re choosing several!

There’s definitely a methodology for finding the best cloud providers. Here are the four criteria to consider:

To choose a cloud provider, start by understanding how the different pieces of your business relate to the cloud because different cloud providers have different specialties. You want to select from providers that have a proven track record in your specific marketplace. For example, if your business has compliance requirements or believes time is money or has extra-high standards for infrastructure reliability, you want a cloud provider who totally gets that. And caters to it. Effectively. 24/7. All cloud providers are not the same.

Start your decision-making process by looking at cloud provider performance, responsiveness, security and customization.

1. Performance
If you put something into the cloud that’s been in your own servers, you’re going to lose some performance because of physics — cloud computing is happening many hops away on shared infrastructure. But the performance difference may not matter to you. Creating backups, for example, can take one hour on a system you own but eight hours when sending it to the cloud. That amount of extra time it takes simply isn’t relevant to most companies. Another example is email. If you move your email to the cloud, it may take 30 seconds for an email to arrive at its destination instead of one second — does the 29-second performance difference matter to your company? To most, it doesn’t. On the other hand, latency issues with voice is a completely different story. And a lot of companies need super-fast customer service applications, CRM and reporting capabilities, too.

  • You want cloud provider performance that improves your operations without slowing down your business.

2. Responsiveness
Almost everyday an IT-related issue will come up for most companies — something will need to be fixed, changed or updated. That’s just reality. Cloud providers that take a one-size-fits-all approach also run very lean operations so if you request service, you may end up in a long cue. Even a simple request like a question about renewing or changing plans can take a lot longer to resolve than you would like. And if your question is timely, non-responsiveness can have real business consequences! While the biggest cloud providers are excellent at making sure their own businesses are up and running — and at keeping you informed when they’re experiencing difficulties — they’re not designed for high-touch customer service as it relates to your business. They have too many customers. Some providers don’t even give you a phone number to call.

  • You want cloud providers that have responsiveness built into their business models so you’re not left hanging when you need them most.

3. Security
Often a company will turn to cloud services when they’re having a security issue with their local infrastructure. Instead of trying to solve the issue themselves, the company will outsource it so it becomes someone else’s problem — moving to Office 365 because you’re experiencing issues with email like hacking attempts or spam filtering, for example. While it’s an understandable quick fix, outsourcing anything security-related can open up a Pandora’s box of weakest-link issues for your company, especially if you deal with sensitive information and accountability. Many cloud providers don’t give you access to monitor their compliance with your security requirements so you’re basically flying blind. A holistic, streamlined approach to security is best.

  • You want a cloud provider who will spot and address security anomalies and report them back to you.

4. Customization
When you can customize cloud services to integrate smoothly into the rest of your infrastructure, you get the kind of flexibility you need to stay in control as you grow, change, evolve and try new things. It’s a completely different approach from choosing Option A, B or C off the shelf — or worse, having just one option. When you can customize the service, you get the benefits of going to the cloud while continuing to run your business the way you want with full insight into your system. Plus, cookie-cutter providers often have a separate login, which slows down your employees and jeopardizes security because it encourages employees to cut corners by using the same passwords or having browsers remember passwords (neither is good). Usually the degree to which a cloud provider allows customization is in direct proportion to how much you will end up valuing their service — and how much the service costs, too.

  • You want your cloud providers to allow you to customize their offerings to integrate with the rest of your system.

Customization of cloud services is something Leapfrog takes very seriously. We vet the most appropriate cloud provider specialists for our clients to make sure they can deliver on their promises and integrate into their existing IT systems. We have a “no blind spots” policy for systems we manage (blind spots are scary!) and set up cloud-based security configurations to mimic the security model we’ve already carefully established. Again, total integration makes total sense when it comes to managing IT.

Next month, see How To Choose a Cloud Provider for Your Small or Medium-Size Business: Part Two for insights into cloud provider pricing structures, scalability and data location, what happens if data is lost and who is ultimately accountable for service and reliability

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