10 Questions Small Businesses Must Answer Before Going to the Cloud


There are lots of attractive benefits of hosted data systems, so ‘Going to the Cloud’ has become a very popular initiative for many companies. However, before Going to the Cloud it’s really important that you understand what it means, and what’s involved.

There are some big companies out there, like Microsoft Office 365, Salesforce.com, Rackspace, and Amazon Web Services, and it’s really easy to get carried away with all the technical hype without fully comprehending your own specific needs.

As a management team member it’s your duty to offer relevant contributions as to the direction of the business and to question decisions when you think it’s necessary. If your company’s decision is to move all or part of its data storage to the cloud then it’s your duty, regardless of your technical prowess, to review all the information leading to this decision, in addition to evaluating the overall impact to the company.

Of course there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ when it comes to Cloud solutions, and every organization will have their own specific and unique requirements. However, in general, there are ten important considerations for any business when evaluating their decision to ‘Go to the Cloud’.

1: Cloud Security Level

Will using Cloud services provide your business with a higher security level than you currently enjoy? Are they offering 3rd party auditors reporting on security?

2: Cloud Business Risks

Is your business willing and prepared to store critical and personal data off your own premises? What are the dangers, such as likelihood of failure, bankruptcy, or negligence? Who in your business has made this decision and have all risks been taken into consideration. Who is the ultimate ‘bottom line’ when it comes to accountability for the final decision? What about downtime? Will this cost be greater than the expected savings of going to the Cloud? These are questions that should be answered, and the answers require discussion.

3: Cloud’s Legal Compliance

Will compliance requirements be met in a Cloud environment, such as PCI, HIPPA, SOX, CJIS, retention, and so on: meaning, requirements that are not currently supported, or alternatively would be too costly to build? If you go to the Cloud, who owns the data, and what will be your access to the data? Most Cloud providers will offer auditable data that compliance standards are being met with their system, however it’s the customer who ultimately has accountability and must report and show compliance to the relevant industry authority. Unfortunately, providers usually won’t indemnify their customers if it comes down to a lack of compliance by the customer.

No. 4: Technical and Management Personnel

Does your proposed Cloud provider show a strong level of management, and are they offering technical expertise not currently available within your business. If you do decide to use their services, what training and management courses are on offer as you implement their services and technology?

No. 5: Cloud Costs and Savings

Over a 5 to 10 year period, do you envisage Cloud computing with all its features providing a significant net savings? If the answer is ‘No’, then can you justify the increased costs? Remember that all costs to the business must be factored in, such as space, personnel, insurance, energy, training, downtime, and so on. Remember that when we use the word ‘significant’ this will be defined by your own specific business: if you’re spending $1 million and saving $1.1 million over a ten year period, this would not really be considered significant. Consider carefully the Opportunity Costs with the Capital Expenditure dollars.

No. 6: Redundancy and Backup

Does your intended Cloud provider offer faster and better backup and recovery of your data, and is the data hosted on multiple locations simultaneously with immediate recovery points? Has going to the Cloud been discussed as part of your business continuity and disaster recovery solution?

No. 7: Service Level Requirements

Can your Cloud provider deliver on your precise service level requirements? You’ll need a history of outages, their recovery times, and the effect on the client. Don’t place too much importance on the contract and credits. Do your own research to discover if they have the appropriate infrastructure to provide the support you need, and to respond to problems and queries in a timely manner. The credits you’ll receive from the provider for missing a service-level agreement will not come close to compensating for the financial impact from your downtime.

No. 8: Location of the Facility / Facilities

Is the provider’s facility secure, physically? Do your research on this. Is it located in a high risk area, or on a fault line? Do they have offshore data centers and is data replicated to those centers?

No. 9: Is There A Simple Exit Strategy?

If you decide to move out of the Cloud, or alternatively move to a different provider, how difficult will this be, and how long will it take. Is there provision for this scenario in your contract; how cooperative will the provider be, and will it be a simple process when the time comes to move?

No. 10: Specific Features

Is your proposed Cloud provider capable of offering the following benefits –

Accessibility to Data

Do your corporate and technology strategies insist that users have access to data 24/7, regardless of platform and geography?

Compatibility of systems

Does your provider have systems compatible with your users, your organization, and your customers? Do you know if your apps will work in the Cloud?

Reliability of Service

Do you believe a Cloud environment will be more reliable and secure than your present environment?

Storage Space, and Expansion

Every two years data storage requirements double. Are you assured that your data center can accommodate this rapid growth?

Delivery Speed

Does Cloud provide a quicker method of deploying services such as platform infrastructure, apps, services, and so on?

Your Chief Information Officer (CIO), IT Director, Chief Technology Officer (CTO), or your Technical Engineer should have a complete and thorough understanding of all these considerations. Once the decision to move to the Cloud has been made they should also be able to direct the changing duties of IT, and demonstrate complete comprehension and governance of Cloud operations, such as removing, adding, and changing.

If any doubts exist about these considerations it’s quite likely that your business could be making a long-term operating expense commitment that could be very difficult to extricate itself from.

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About the author

Alistair helps clients implement technology solutions that make them more successful and much happier to go to work.