By now most of us have part of our lives in the cloud. Family photos, videos, home entertainment, sure. But there are some business owners who are still hesitant in giving everything over to an “entity” they can’t see, touch, or visit. If you’re considering cloud services and placing all of your business’ data assets in the cloud, read on.
What is the Cloud?
It sounds a little ominous but the cloud isn’t new. It’s merely a term for web-based storage and application hosting. The benefits of cloud-based operations are that someone else handles some of the risk, the servers, the maintenance, and pushing auto updates out increasing your business’ efficiency. Since the cost is spread over all the vendor’s clients, it drastically reduces costs for most businesses.
The downside is putting all of your most valuable information into someone else’s hands. Yet it’s not as risky as it sounds when you vet the company that will handle the different portions of your operation for you.
5 Questions to Ask of Cloud Vendors
Businesses embrace the cloud in a multitude of ways from running a paperless environment with everything being stored virtually to some that only use it for document exchanges and collaboration between employees. If you’re considering moving all or most of your operations to the cloud ask these questions.
Maintenance Virtual systems need to be maintained and updates will roll out at times beyond your control. Ask about when maintenance is generally conducted and if you’re given any warning. Most companies will tell you days in advance but don’t assume that of the company you’re auditioning.
Also ask them what their “up time” rating or percentage is. Most cloud companies rarely go offline for maintenance but you want to know how fast it generally takes for them to return should something go wrong.
Upgrade Process and Schedule One of the great benefits of the cloud is no time-consuming installs. You turn on your system and – BAM! – new features. While most of us understand this can happen at any time on platforms like Facebook, it’s not any fun in business. Ask the company if they adhere to a schedule of when you can expect upgrades to be rolled out, what training is provided for new features or interfaces, and how much notice you receive. The last thing you want is a major upgrade rolling out sans warning in the middle of your business’ busiest time.
Don’t expect you can tell your cloud business that the upgrade scheduled for that evening doesn’t work for you. But you can explain that it is a business critical time for you and you can’t afford downtime due to lack of training on new tools. A vendor partner will help you understand the changes ahead and work through the transition to make it painless for your business.
Backups Back in the day, when you maintained your own server and a file went kerpluey you could pull the backup tape and restore it to a certain point. Sure, you might have lost some data but some is better than none. Understand what the vendor has in place for those times when something goes wrong on your end. Can you access older data and restore it to a previous point in time? What’s the process involved?
Data Portability You want to believe this new vendor is the answer to your storage dreams but what if you change your mind, merge with another company who uses a different vendor, your business outgrows this solution, or something happens that causes you to switch vendors years in the future? Make sure you understand the process of moving on. You don’t want your data to be held hostage or in a format that cannot be used by other systems.
Security This is the biggest issue for businesses considering the cloud, especially for those in data sensitive industries like healthcare and the law. Ensure you have a full understanding of the company’s security procedures and safeguards. A data breach could cause legal problems for you, even though the breach didn’t occur in your direct operation.
You may wonder who would want your data but when you become a client of a company with high-profile clients (like Target) your data can get caught in the hacking crossfire. Some business owners say they’ll never go to the cloud, but chances are there’s some portion of your operation that already is. Like any big change, moving to the cloud can be disconcerting but ultimately if you weigh the positives versus the negatives, you'll make a decision that fits your business.
Christina R. Green teaches small businesses, chambers and associations how to connect through content. Her articles have appeared in the Midwest Society of Association Executives’ Magazine, NTEN.org, AssociationTech, and Socialfish. She is a regular blogger at Frankjkenny.com and the Event Manager Blog.
She’s a bookish writer on a quest to bring great storytelling to organizations everywhere.