Questions To Ask Before You Sign Up With A Cloud Provider
Over the past decade, the cloud has rapidly become one of the most integral technologies in modern society. Both for private consumers and business purposes, the cloud has offered a range of benefits, from convenient access to data to cost savings in hardware reduction.
Put simply—the cloud has changed the nature of IT, and business as a whole.
What Does The Cloud Offer You?
The cloud offers a number of key advantages beyond the general benefits:
Connect Team Members For Collaboration
With cloud technology, your staff doesn't have to wait for each other to be done with their part of the document or project in order to tackle their own aspect. They can all work on the same project at the same time to maximize productivity.
Say Goodbye To Legacy Software
Are you still using the same old line of business software that you’ve been using for years and years? As dependable as it may be (and let's be honest, mileage varies) software like this has a core flaw—it only works for those who are fluent in it. After all, it’s not that accessible if you’re not familiar with it.
While some members of your team, depending on their experience and skill set, may be an expert with your legacy software, what about the wider community of subcontractors you have to work with?
The cloud can help with this as well—new centralized project management platforms bring everyone together in one intuitive cloud location. Now, instead of needing to be trained on unintuitive, outdated software, your entire team can make use of a modern, user-friendly cloud platform.
Enhance Your Cybersecurity
By storing your data offsite in a data center, you access a vast range of digital and physical security measures to ensure they're safe from all threats. Managed firewall, antivirus, anti-spam measures, onsite security personnel, and more to ensure the security of your server information so that you can do your work without having to worry.
Store & Access Vital Data
This is a core benefit of all cloud deployments—store your data in the cloud so you can keep it safe, and access it from where and where you need to.
By moving your vital data to the cloud, you can enhance your security, increase data accessibility for staff members and lower costs. Instead of storing onsite, you can reduce costly local hardware by storing your files in the cloud, where they'll be safe and easily accessible by you and your staff.
Automate Your Processes
Automation with machine learning plays an enormous role in optimizing workflows and predicting problems before they occur. With workflows based in the cloud, you can automate or semi-automate many processes that had to be handled manually before.
Harness Big Data
During the lifecycle of any project, you must process and share massive amounts of information like architectural and engineering drawings, production schedules, time and materials inventories, and more. The cloud provides the ability to store and process the big data that's needed for this.
Enhance Business Continuity
By storing your hardware off-site, you gain a valuable contingency against any on-site emergencies. Power outages, malware attacks or other disasters can strike your business at any time, but by having your IT infrastructure managed safely off-premises, you have one less thing to account for during an emergency.
Why Aren’t You Using The Cloud?
The truth is, it’s wise of you to be careful about making any big changes to your business. After all, it’s your responsibility to apply an appropriate level of scrutiny to each and every decision you make, and that includes something as significant as moving to the cloud. How can you make sure you’re choosing the right cloud company to work with?
Ask Your Potential Cloud Provider These 25 Questions
As with any potential change to your IT, you need to do your homework. Sometimes that means research, other times it’ll mean consulting an IT company you trust.
However, in this case, it’s just a matter of asking the right questions.
When you meet with a potential cloud provider, ask them the following questions before you sign on the dotted line…
Are You, First and Foremost, A Cloud Company?
If they’re going to store, secure and manage your data, don’t settle for a jack-of-all-trades provider. Find a company that is focused fully on providing optimal cloud services.
What Are Your Credentials & Bona Fides?
Don’t trust your data to just any company that offers cloud services. Do your research and find out how well-regarded they are, whether they rank on lists or have won awards of substance. When it comes to the cloud, available resources and quality of service are key.
Do You Have Specific Industry Expertise?
Not every cloud provider is going to have experience working with businesses like yours. The better they understand the work you do, the more likely they will be to provide the specific security controls and user experience you’ll require.
How Many Businesses Like Mine Do You Support?
Just because they have a specific sector page on their website doesn’t mean they’re actually working with any businesses like yours. Ask for referrals and verified testimonials, if not outright contact information for their contacts at other businesses they work with.
Do You Operate A Tier One Data Center?
Don’t settle for anything less than a Tier One data center, which provides the following standards:
- Multiple redundant Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) systems
- Dual power feeds
- More than on backup power generator
- Access to on-demand emergency fuel
- Multiple OC12 and OC48 Internet Connections
- At least four redundant connections to upstream Internet providers
- Inert gas fire suppression systems (FM-200)
- Flood prevention systems, routinely tested & audited
- 24×7 closed-circuit video surveillance
- Physical security measures
- Backup HVAC and humidity control systems
- Routine testing and auditing of all systems
- 24/7 monitoring of the entire facility
Are You SSAE16 Certified?
You don’t have to do the nitty-gritty research to make sure this cloud provider’s data center is up to par.
Simply ask if they have their SSAE16 certification, which guarantees they have the highest levels of reliability, resiliency, security, and management.
How Fast Are You Growing?
Can they tell you how many new businesses have joined them in the past month? How about the past year? The more rapidly they’re growing, the more refined their onboarding and management processes will be.
Do You Understand My Software?
If they’re hosting your line of business and management software solutions, you’ll want to know that they have experience with them. The better they understand your apps, the better they can ensure they function over the cloud.
Where Will My Data Be Stored?
That may seem like a rhetorical question, but it’s not really. It’s sort of like wondering where the Internet is—it’s easier to assume that there’s not a good answer to it. However, if you’re making that assumption about the cloud, you’d be wrong.
You should be sure to find out whether your data is hosted in or out of the state, country, or even continent—this info could have implications on compliance and security, depending on where your data is stored.
Who Owns The Facility In Which My Data Will Reside?
This is another vital part of confirming the state your data will be in once it’s migrated into the cloud. You need to know whether the “cloud provider” is managing the service or delivering the service.
What’s the difference?
- In one case, the provider you’re working with will be the company that is actually managing your data and the data centers it’s stored in. The benefit here is that you’ll be dealing directly with those that are responsible for storing your data and keeping it safe.
- In the other case, the cloud provider you’re talking to is simply delivering the cloud service—but they’re not the ones actually managing the storage facilities.
This is not uncommon; there are a lot of cloud services on the market that can be white-labeled (i.e. renamed with the reseller's brand) and sold to clients like you. That allows the cloud company to focus on maintaining the facilities without having to deal with client-facing tasks. A key example of this model is Amazon Web Services, a cloud service that is often delivered by client-facing IT companies.
It should be noted that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does require more assurance and attention. If you’re concerned about data governance, in this model, you’ll need to be aware of the degree of separation between you and your data.
Do You Have Enterprise-Grade Equipment?
You can’t afford to rely on infrastructure that’s made up of consumer-quality hardware or self-built equipment. Ensure your cloud provider is using enterprise-class systems from the likes of Dell, HP or IBM.
What Steps Will You Take To Protect My Data Legally In The Event Of Your Legal Problems?
As with any business relationship you may consider starting, you have to be sure that any legal troubles that occur with the other party can’t affect you. This comes down to having assurances that, in the event of a legal issue on the cloud provider’s end, your data will not be affected or involved.
An effective way to do so is to request guaranteed segregated data storage—that is, make sure your data is not kept in a communal space with other client’s data, which could be subject to legal issues later.
How Many Support Staff Do You Have?
A well-run cloud provider will have well-staffed support and onboarding teams. A great litmus test of the size and scope of your potential cloud partner is to simply ask how many staff members they have in those departments. Don’t settle for anything less than an exact answer, which should be at least 3 for onboarding, and 6 for full-time support.
Who Answers At The Helpdesk?
In other words, are they outsourcing their support phone lines? The more integrated their support services are, the better for you. It means fewer links in the chain of support, and more direct results when you need help.
Do You Provide Local Environment Support?
Any cloud provider can oversee support for the data centers they manage; those that go above and beyond will also support your local environment. That means troubleshooting when you have issues with cloud access on your end. Don’t settle for a cloud provider that tells you to call your IT company for help instead.
Are You Biased?
Make sure to find out if this cloud provider only uses a specific type of software. While they may claim to be software-agnostic, it might not be true if your line of business apps conflict with theirs. Double-check that they can flex to fit your software preferences (and won’t expect the opposite).
Will I Be Locked Into A Contract?
The cloud, after all, is supposed to be flexible. If you’re expected to sign contracts that last months or even years, you’re not getting the full range of benefits of the cloud. Make sure you can get a month-to-month agreement, if you so choose.
Can Your Offer Proof Of The Security Processes At Your Facility?
Obviously, you will need to ask about the security features in place at the data storage facility—no matter what they tell you, the important part will be to verify that these measures are actually in place.
Ideally, you can be given a tour of the facility (or one like it), but depending on where it’s located, that won’t always be possible. At the very least, the security measures should be guaranteed in writing, giving you a form of recourse in the event that security becomes a problem later.
Is All My Data Encrypted In Transit? What Type Of Encryption Is Used?
In layman’s terms, encrypted data is formatted in a secret code that would be meaningless if intercepted. It is one of the most efficient ways to secure a database given that decryption can only occur through a key, which is essentially a “secret password”. In this case, there is a need for updated encryption software to ensure that private information is only accessible through the database program.
Encryption technology is a great way to protect important data. By making data unreadable to anyone who isn't supposed to have access to it, you can secure files stored on your systems, servers, and mobile devices, as well as files sent via email or through file-sharing services.
Encryption is especially important when your data is being transmitted, whether it’s being sent via an email, or between your office and your offsite data storage location. You must ensure that in the case the wrong party intercepts your data, they won’t be able to use it against you.
Is All Of My Data Stored In Encrypted Format? Again, What Level Of Encryption?
As stated above, you need to encrypt data in transit and in use—but it’s also important to do so at rest. Most companies do a good job of encrypting data in transit, but not so much with data at rest. This is important because it protects any data that may be illegally accessed while stored in the facility.
The best thing to do is to encrypt data when it’s created so that when it is stored in a data center in the cloud, it will be protected. Both the decryption keys and the decrypted versions of the data should be available only within a protected transient memory space.
Is Your Data Segregated From Other Organizations Physically Or Is Storage “Communal”?
As mentioned above, when it comes to the legal side of things, it’s important for you to find out how your data is stored. Is all your data stored in the same “place” as every other clients'? If so, it can have significant implications…
- If hackers target another company whose data is stored communally with yours, your data can be at risk.
- If another company’s data (stored communally with yours) comes under legal scrutiny, you can be implicated in the process.
Insisting on private, segmented storage may possibly cost you more in storage fees, but it will eliminate a number of variables that could be more work for you down the road.
Will You Demonstrate Proof Of Insurance And Add Me As A Named Insured?
This is fairly straightforward—you need to ask that the cloud provider has insurance, and you need to have proof that you’re insured as a part of it. Get this in writing, and keep a copy on file just in case.
Just as with so many other questions on this list, it’s important for you to understand that when you store your data with another company, you overlap with them—legally and otherwise. Make sure that you’re protected before you do so.
Will You Provide A Reliability And Security SLA? How Will You Compensate Me In The Event Of Non-Compliance?
It’s important to verify that your potential cloud provider will perform as expected. It’s easy to claim 99.9% uptime, but it’s another to actually put it in writing. That’s why a Service Level Agreement is so important.
The Service Level Agreement describes the performance guarantees the service provider is making related to the contracted services. These performance guarantees may include infrastructure uptime and availability, service incident response time, and data recovery time objectives.
Typically, companies will set allowable thresholds for the performance guarantees and require the service provider to pay financial penalties if limits get breached. You should know how you’ll be compensated in the event that your cloud provider’s reliability, security or other guarantees aren’t met.
Can You Provide Audited Reliability (Up-Time) Statistics?
In line with the previous question, don’t just settle for an SLA that lays out the service standards your potential cloud provider is willing to meet. Ask them for proof that they’re doing so currently.
A successful cloud provider will have these types of stats on hand—and they’ll be audited and verified by a third company. Another effective way to check this is to talk to other current clients and get testimony about their experience working with the cloud provider in question.
Will They Document How You Can Get Your Data Back If Things Change And At What Cost?
Always have an exit strategy. There's always a chance that you'll find cloud storage, or this particular cloud provider, in particular, isn't right for you. Or, the opposite could happen—you'll be perfectly satisfied with the services and will want to renew them.
That’s why it’s smart to know how the renewal/termination process will work ahead of time:
- Should the contract terminate, does it require a monthly or annual renewal?
- Will you incur any penalties for ending your service before the expiration date?
- How will the data retrieval process work in the event of termination?
- What is considered acceptable, in the contract, for the cloud provider to cancel the agreement on their end?
Don’t Rush To The Cloud
Moving to the cloud can have tremendous benefits—but it’s not without its risks, especially if you don’t ask the right questions. Don’t trust just anybody implicitly, and have the above questions ready to get the most out of your cloud provider.
Need expert assistance? Book a meeting with the Integral Networks team.