The move to the cloud is gathering momentum. If your business is poised to make the shift, finding the right service provider is crucial to a successful transition. Here we outline the key areas to consider.
The business benefits of moving to the cloud are now widely accepted. You can get the IT service you need, when you need it, and only for as long as you need it. What’s more, you only pay for what you use.
Until recently, many businesses contemplated shifting to the cloud, but stopped short of taking the first step. But in a recent Gartner survey of UK CIOs, 76 percent said that by 2015 they expected their core infrastructure to be based on a private cloud or a combination of private and public clouds.
A key concern for any organisation contemplating the shift is the risk to the business during the transition. As Chris Lindsay of BT Business observes: “It can be a bit like changing the engines in a 747 mid flight.”
Finding the right partner to guide you through the process is essential. Here are some of the most important factors to consider when choosing your cloud service provider.
Do you have the right network?
Shifting to the cloud can have a huge impact on your network, with employees accessing databases, applications and other material over the web either from a company network or from remote locations. It’s important to ensure that your plans include sufficient and reliable bandwidth for all your users’ needs – and that it will be able to support this new way of working.
The cloud can be used to store company data and deliver applications without the overheads of dedicated in-house servers and other hardware. But these efficiencies can be lost if the network that links them to your cloud provider is unreliable or can’t cope.
“End-to-end connectivity is essential,” says Lindsay. “If one link goes down, it puts your business at risk. Which is why there’s a benefit to having one provider who not only designs your network, but also manages and maintains it. So if you’re thinking cloud, think network too.”
Do you have the right cloud support?
With business change comes challenges, often technical ones. So it’s important to choose a provider who can solve problems swiftly and efficiently, and who you feel you can trust. Agreeing clear Service Level Agreements (SLAs) from the outset is key, including who has overall control if faults occur, and how quickly these will be fixed if they happen.
Bear in mind that SLAs can’t really be standardised. Performance that’s acceptable for one service may be inadequate for another, and different departments may need different service levels. Some providers offer ‘Cloud Critical’ support, where services are monitored 24/7, whereas some suppliers’ support contracts are more likely to be geared to a 48-hour turnaround.
Think about what SLAs you need, and that they are tailored to your business. Discuss them with your cloud provider and only agree to go ahead once you’re happy.
“They should be meaningful in the context of your business, they should work for you,” says Lindsay. “Ideally, all SLAs should be combined in a single contract, regardless of how close you are to moving into the cloud.”
“When it comes to cloud deployment, security is the number one issue that concerns most businesses,” says Lindsay.
“It’s very important that you’re clear about who is responsible for security, especially if you are transferring sensitive or confidential data. Some providers leave this to the customer – so check the small print.”
Cloud security is a complex area. It needs to cover not only the data centre, applications and devices, but also governance and compliance issues, which may be industry or sector-specific. It’s essential that your provider can offer a security policy that is bespoke to your business, but at the same time is compliant under the law. A good provider will prioritise this.
While it’s crucial that your cloud provider has the right technical expertise and industry accreditation, you should also look into their experience.
“Look for a provider who has worked with businesses like yours, who knows what works and what doesn’t,” says Lindsay. Remember to check references or speak to previous customers yourself.
“You can’t run a business from the cloud without thinking about how everything is connected end-to-end – networking, support, security,” he adds.
“Ask yourself, what would happen if one of these elements fail? Choosing a provider who not only has the right expertise, but who also has an overview of the business and takes ownership of the end-to-end process is crucial.”
There is undoubtedly a lot to think about if you want to move your business’s IT infrastructure into the cloud, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. But the partner you choose should be able to guide you through the whole process; from network design and security through to implementation and maintenance. With experience from your industry, they will help to identify aspects you may not have thought of, creating a cost-effective solution that will work for your business now and in the future. Remember that the partner you choose is there to make your journey into the cloud a successful one.