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Choosing the right cloud service provider

In the first of a two-part article series, OBTs Shane Muller looks at the obvious questions people should be asking when choosing a cloud service provider.

Cloud delivery is very much the technology emerging as the preferred choice of increasingly more businesses. Seemingly every week, a new service pops up, offering something bigger and better than the one before. But with so much choice, how do you choose the service provider that’s right for you and your business?

Here are the seven obvious questions most people think to ask:

1. “How long have you been in business?”

In theory, anyone can set up a cloud service (and many companies have

done so to capitalise on its recent popularity). But what’s important is track record. Ask your provider when they were established and specifically, how long they’ve been providing cloud services.

2. “How many contracts have you renewed?”

A provider that delivers high service levels and value will retain clients – and satisfied clients will normally be all too happy to recommend a good solution. If clients didn’t renew their contracts, try to find out why.

3. “What levels of security are in place for …”

a) Personnel

• How are company employees/contractors screened?

• What measures are in place to prevent unauthorised access to client data?

• What technical experience and qualifications are staff required to have?

b) Physical security

• Where is the data stored?

• What physical protective measures are in place?

• Is the data centre monitored by 24 hour security?

• Is the building fire and bomb resistant?

• What is the cooling infrastructure like (is it robust and fully redundant)?

• What kind of back-up power generators are in place in the event of a power failure?

c) Privacy and confidentiality

Ask your provider:

• Is my data stored on the same servers, network or backup devices that other customers use?

• How do you isolate my data from those customers?

• Do you meet data privacy requirements in my industry and location?

d) Backup and recovery

How often does the provider test their back up and recovery procedures? Find out how quickly your data can be restored quickly in the event of a problem. Additionally, can they recover emails from specific mailboxes from a year ago?

e) Uptime

Ask when scheduled maintenance is performed – how often and for how long. It helps to know which services are affected during those times. Then ask:

• What are their redundancy systems like?

• Does the system work continuously, even if there’s a fault somewhere in a critical part of the infrastructure?

• What is their record for uptime?

• Do they provide a contractual guarantee for uptime?

4. “How scalable is your system?”

Their current service and set-up may suit your business now, but if you double your numbers in the next 12 months, can the provider still meet your needs? Find out if they have the capacity to increase your storage and how much they will charge for the privilege?

5. “What issues are covered in the Service Level Agreement?”

Ask what level of support comes as standard and how much you’ll be charged for it.

Ideally, you want a provider that is willing to take responsibility for all IT related issues and won’t pass the buck, ensuring you don’t get bounced around between various parties who each claim “another party is responsible” for the problem you may be experiencing.

6. “How and where is my data stored?”

If you’re in Australia, you want to know that your data is stored in Australia. But wherever you are based, make sure your data is stored securely and backed up within the country.

7. “How do you handle provisioning?”

Ask your provider:

• Is there an automated process for adding, changing and revoking employee accounts and data access rights?

• Am I in full control of the nature and timing of such changes?

• If the process is manual, what steps are in place to limit human error.

– Shane Muller is managing director at OBT.

Tomorrow, read the 10 questions Muller believes people aren’t asking their cloud service providers, but should.

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