Data is the lifeblood of businesses and thanks to trends like big data and the Internet of Things, we’re accumulating more of it than ever before. This has the effect of putting pressure on storage. Whereas in the past data would have been kept in house, the demands of the latest systems mean that this is often impractical as well as being an expensive option.
No surprise, then, that firms are turning more and more to cloud storage. This offers a scalable solution with data available from anywhere there’s an internet connection, so it’s easy to see the attraction for businesses. But what should you look for when choosing a cloud provider? At first sight they may all appear to be similar, but there are some key questions to be answered when deciding who to trust with your data.
The data centre is at the heart of storing information in the cloud. When assessing service providers it’s important to understand more about their data centre. The first question to ask is about location. If you’re storing sensitive information like health or financial records, you may not want to have them stored overseas, indeed you may be prevented from doing so by compliance rules.
You also need to ask about disaster recovery arrangements. How is the cloud data centre protected from power outages and from natural disasters like floods?
Security is a key factor too. The data centre needs to be physically secure, but you also need to ensure your data is safe while it’s in the cloud. You should be looking for basic firewall and anti-virus protection, but also for other measures like encryption of data and multi-factor authentication for accessing it. The cloud supplier’s overall security policy needs to be considered too, for example checking whether they carry out regular security audits and checks.
Data is big business and as all organisations have storage that needs that grow over time, it’s important that storage can be scaled. This is one of the big focal points of using the cloud, but you need to ensure that your service provider has the capacity needed to cope with growth and that they can scale up quickly to meet increased demands.
Many cloud providers will offer a degree of self service operation via a customer dashboard. This allows you to configure your storage, create virtual machines, increase storage pools to meet demand and so on. When choosing a cloud service you need to look at how easy this is to use and how well it meets your day-to-day needs.
You need to understand the pricing structure of the cloud service too. If you exceed pre-agreed storage limits, for example, you don’t want to be hit with an unexpected bill. Similarly you don’t want to be paying for much more storage than you actually need due to inflexible policies.
If you’re entrusting your data to someone else, you need to be sure that you’ll be able to access it when you need it. This shines the spotlight on the cloud provider’s support. You need to know what support arrangements are in place and how quickly the supplier will respond to any problems. While this will usually be enshrined in a cloud service agreement, you might want to talk to existing customers to see how it works in practice.
Ask about downtime too. If you’re heavily reliant on data that’s stored in the cloud it can cause major business disruption if you can’t access it. While this places emphasis on the supplier’s systems and networks, it also means that your business internet connection needs to be reliable.
There’s no doubt that the cloud has many benefits for businesses which is why it’s proving so popular. It can also free you up to concentrate on other aspects of your operation. Remember that your data is vital to your company, so trusting it to someone else is a major step. You can’t afford to take selecting a cloud provider lightly.