Once you’ve decided to adopt cloud computing, it’s time to begin your search for a cloud services provider.
A cloud service provider (CSP) is a company that offers one or more pieces of cloud computing functionality including SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS.
Likely, the first thing you’ll discover when looking for a cloud service provider is that there’s a very large number to choose from. How do you know which provider is the right one for your small business? The key to success lies in the answers to the questions below.
Questions to Ask Your Cloud Service Provider
As with web hosting providers, not all cloud service providers are equal. By asking these questions, in no particular order except the first, you can quickly eliminate many potential providers from your list.
1. What Cloud Computing Services Do You Provide?
This is a great first question for quickly weeding out a number of providers from your list. After all, if they don’t provide the cloud services you need, they won’t be a good fit.
For example, if you want an end-to-end SaaS business management suite, and a service provider doesn’t offer that, you can stop asking your questions and remove them from this list.
2. Where Is Our Data Stored?
You want to make sure that your data is being held in an up-to-date data center. This will help insure both reliability and performance as you access services.
It’s a bonus when the provider has a fall-back data center or two. That way, if there’s a problem at the primary data center (i.e. earthquake, flood, power loss), your services will fail over to a secondary data center with little to no interruption on your end.
3. How Secure Is Our Data?
Security is always important, especially when it comes to safeguarding customer data. Ask your provider about:
- Their security policies and practices;
- The size and experience of their security team; and
- Past breaches and issues.
4. Do You Perform Regular Backups and How Fast Can You Perform a Restore when Needed?
Backup and restore is a critical cloud computing functionality. If your data gets deleted, corrupted, or even becomes a victim of ransomware, the best solution is to restore a recent backup.
Timing is important here as the older the backup, the more data you end up losing when it’s restored. Ask potential providers if they provide hot backups, ones that run regularly during the day. That way, you’ll only miss an hour or two of data when you perform a restore.
Also ask how long it takes to have a restore done. You don’t want to wait days to be back in business.
5. How Frequent Are Your Service Outages and How Long Do They Last on Average?
As the average cost of downtime for SMBs is $7,900 per minute, this is a business-critical question.
Don’t be put off by a provider that has experienced outages; it happens to them all. Instead, focus on the number of outages and how long they last. A great cloud service provider has few outages and they should not last long.
Also ask about maintenance outages. These are scheduled outages during which the provider upgrades their hardware and software. Find out how much warning you get before these occur (so you can accommodate them) and whether they happen during business hours (which will impact you directly).
6. How Easy Is It to Manage My Services?
Most small businesses have small IT teams — if they have them at all. Therefore, being able to easily manage their hosted services is an important factor in selecting a provider.
Many providers offer consolidated services management functionality and that goes a long way toward helping a small business do more with less.
7. How Flexible Are My Services?
One of the big advantages of cloud computing is the ability to add capacity and services as they’re needed, and remove them when they are no longer being used. This “flexible consumption” license model will save your small business money by enabling it to run short-term projects without having to permanently purchase hardware and software licenses.
Make sure your cloud provider offers flexible consumption. If you don’t need it now, you likely will be glad to have it in the future.
8. Can You Consolidate All My Service Charges Into One Bill?
Both your IT and finance team will be glad you asked this question because, by consolidating your cloud services bill into one, you’ll get an overall view of what you’re buying and what you’re using.
In the case of the flexible consumption licensing model mentioned above, it will enable you to quickly see if you’re paying for services you no longer use or, if you’re coming close to a limit and need to purchase more services.
While you’re at it, ask potential cloud service providers about service charge increases. How often do they occur and how much warning do you get before they happen?
9. What Service-Level-Agreements (SLAs) Do You Offer?
A service-level-agreement (SLA) is just that — a promise to provide a specific level of service whether that’s uptime, backups, restores or more.
A service provider often offers more than one tier of SLAs. For example, a lower-priced tier may promise that a restore request will be completed within one business day while a higher-priced tier promises that a restore request will be completed within one hour.
Also ask about penalties, such as financial compensation or free services for a period of time, if the provider does not meet the promises within an SLA.
10. Can You Provide References?
This is a very important question to ask. Don’t take the service provider’s word for how good they are. Ask to talk to current customers without the provider being present.
Also, search Google for “(provider name) review”. This way, you can find more feedback and input as you make your decision.
11. What cloud offers are in place to do a proof of concept to showcase your services?
Most companies don’t ask for offers that are in place to explore a proof of concept. For example, if you have an application that needs to be migrated to cloud infrastructure, Meylah offers $1,500 in free assessment services to easily help you build a plan for migration or $2,000 in development services towards a cloud application development.
The questions above will enable your small business to whittle down the list of potential cloud service providers to a manageable amount.
Once a provider passes that gauntlet, feel free to ask more questions including technical specifications and limits as well as industry-specific compliance needs.
Do not stop asking questions until you’re satisfied that a provider is the right fit for your business. Always remember, it’s much cheaper to discover things beforehand then after.
Cloud Technology Photo via Shutterstock
There is still so much about cloud that I must learn. Thanks for the guide questions.
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