Moving to cloud-based computing has many advantages for businesses of all sizes, although the biggest benefits are likely to be most obvious to SMEs, with limited resources to manage their IT infrastructure themselves. As cloud-based computing relies upon a third party to keep critical applications running, it is crucial to work with the right partner. Here are 7 things to consider when deciding on your hosting solution.
1. Where will the application data be held?
Unless there is no possibility whatsoever of customer data ever touching the provider’s servers, then it is critical that you understand exactly where the data is being stored and processed. If the provider is using international facilities, then you will need to comply not only with data-protection laws in your home country, but also with any relevant laws in the host country. If you are changing from domestic hosting to international hosting then it is vital to check if you need to get the customer’s explicit permission for this.
2. What is the process for communicating with the hosting provider?
Some companies become notorious for putting much more effort into their sales process than they do into anything that happens afterward. Companies who put effort into their after-sales support will offer clear support channels with appropriate hours of operation. These will typically include a business support telephone number and email address, which should be available during standard office hours in your country, along with a technical-support telephone number and email address. There should be at least one out-of-hours emergency support channel. The provider should have clear targets for response time as well as a clear escalation process.
3. Look at past performance and current performance guarantees
Established companies should be willing to share statistics of their performance (i.e. uptime) over past years. They should have clear explanations of any occasions when their quality of service dropped, along with what steps were taken to correct the situation and what measures were taken to prevent a recurrence. The company should also be able to provide details of any major upgrades planned for the near future and what impact (if any) they will have on service availability. While it is highly unlikely that any company will guarantee 100% uptime, they should ideally guarantee well above 90%.
4. Check the stability of their company
Although many businesses wind up their affairs in an orderly manner if they cease trading, for whatever reason; you do not want to run the risk of being left in the lurch if an ailing company goes out of business. It’s therefore wise to check that any potential partner has solid financials.
5. Check the options for supporting change
As a rule of thumb, the longer the length of the contract, the more important it is to be able to accommodate change. While the details of any proposed change will depend on your specific requirements, a potential partner should at least be able to outline the process for making changes. Ideally they should also be able to give guideline costs and times for common requests.
6. Check the process for ending the contract
Ideally you and your hosting partner will have a long future together; however at some point you may wish to move to another provider. Alternatively your provider may choose to (or be forced to) wind up their operation. One of the hallmarks of a company with a genuine commitment to professionalism and customer service is that it will continue to provide support to customers even when the relationship is drawing to an end.
7. Check their readiness for emergencies
There are effectively two sorts of emergencies which need to be considered – those which take place at your side and those which take place at your provider’s. With regards to emergencies which take place at your side, you need to know what sort of support your provider can give if your needs suddenly change due to an unexpected event. This can be positive as well as negative. For example, you may run a very successful advertising campaign, which results in your staff having to make much greater use of an application. Alternatively, you may need an application to be changed at short notice in anticipation of an important event.
Similarly you need to be confident that your provider can resolve any contingency situations which affect them. While it is almost inevitable that a provider will experience some unplanned downtime on the odd occasion, a reputable provider will have clear and tested plans in place to cope with outages and will be happy to share them. These plans should include their strategy for contacting and updating customers during the period of the outage.