Especially since the pandemic, transitioning applications and communication systems to the cloud has been a top priority in business. After all, the value of this setup is obvious, made all the more clear by lockdown periods: With a cloud-based setup, location no longer factors into work operations, for many jobs. Whether you’re communicating, accessing files, accumulating data or even onboarding new employees, the cloud ensures that none of it is limited to a physical office and that all of it is reliably accessible.
No wonder the idea has caught on so well by now; the pitch is downright magical.
In fact, it may even be too magical.
When considering the cloud, all too many businesses fall into the trap of imagining this technology as a universal cure-all for business continuity and security. To be sure, the cloud can create a more secure, more reliable and more accessible communications infrastructure. But like any other solution, not all options are built for the same purposes. What’s more, not all of them are built with equal quality or functionality.
So to demystify the cloud — and, ideally, show what it’s really capable of — consider these seven points key to defining an effective cloud provider.
It ought to go without saying, but there’s no understating how important industry recognition is for cloud service providers. A cloud service provider needs to be reliable, after all, and a fairly certain way to ascertain that reliability is by looking at what the experts say. Some especially important ones to look for are ISO 27001 compliance or verification that the system is regularly audited.
Similarly, evaluate whether the system is certified as compliant with legal requirements, such as HIPAA or GDPR. If the cloud provider and their infrastructure provide this compliance from the outset, it’ll save you and your business a lot of headaches further down the line.
To reiterate, not all cloud options are made equally or for the same purposes; like any technology, some will be better suited for certain results than others.
With that in mind, it’s vital to evaluate each provider with a ready picture of what you want out of their cloud services. What applications do you plan on bringing to the cloud with you? What processes are you trying to make remotely accessible? How much time are you willing to spend on customization?
While plenty of potential service providers can help give you an idea of what they offer in this regard, you’ll have a simpler transition if you come into the search with clear expectations.
3. Data Centers
While the “magic” of the cloud is that it seems to take data storage into the ether, the reality is that the cloud is made up of actual data centers here on earth. Furthermore, if those data centers are shut down or in some way compromised, your cloud access may suffer as a result.
So in weighing cloud providers, it’s important to consider physical architectures as much as digital ones. An ideal provider should have their data centers in safe locations to best mitigate disasters that might shut down servers. Really, they should also have multiple data centers spread over the world to ensure constant uptime in case one center fails.
Again, while the focus of the cloud is moving away from reliance on physical offices and security, physical elements do factor in at the network level. That being the case, it’s important that you choose a provider with a smart, failover-ready setup.
4. Data Management
Along the same lines, remember that when you store or send data using “the cloud,” that data does still exist on a physical system somewhere. That means even when considering cloud providers, you should evaluate how confidential your data will be with any given provider. Consider who from your provider may have access to your data and under what circumstances; also, take into account what the provider’s plan of action is in case of a data breach or other extenuating circumstances surrounding your data.
Location of data centers comes into play in this category, too, because local ordinances may factor into when your data can be accessed or by whom. A trustworthy cloud provider should list any cases where this access may occur or explicitly state that they aren’t applicable for them.
It bears repeating that safety is a huge benefit of moving to the cloud. Not only does the cloud mitigate malware and make DDoS attacks less likely, but it also ensures security updates are applied automatically to keep you at the utmost level of protection at all times.
Of course, at the end of the day, your protection is only as effective as what your cloud provider can offer. Given how much security you’re leaving in your provider’s hands, it’s pivotal to make sure you thoroughly research how they maintain the safety of their network and your data from outside threats. Here too, certification and awards are a great indicator of effectiveness.
And just like in the last points, physical elements also factor into security. Data centers being real places that theoretically can be broken into, it’s also important to know how well secured those actual locations are on top of everything else. Again, a good provider should be able to reassure you when it comes to this question as well.
Tying many of these points together is the fairly obvious factor of how reliably online a given network is. Does it experience any significant downtime? On average, how often is it up through a given year? Given that outages may affect your ability to communicate or even access files, it’s vital that uptime be as near 100% as possible through effective design and failover options.
7. Customer Service
The reality is that you’re likely to face some kind of issue with any cloud service, be it downtime or just confusion at how to use some element of it. So, naturally, the cloud provider should have responsive and knowledgeable customer service to help you through that.
On top of all the technological elements to look for in your cloud provider, make sure customer relations is something you also take into account. If disaster strikes, you don’t want to be stuck on hold waiting to reach some outsourced call center; in an emergency especially, you’ll be much happier that you chose a provider who connects you to a knowledgeable agent right away.
Going in Unclouded
As easy it is to keep your head in the clouds (so to speak) about this new technology, the real factors that weigh on a business in the selection will make or break the implementation of the system. This list we’ve just given isn’t all-inclusive, either — depending on your situation, there may be loads of additional points to consider in what you’re really looking for.
Again, for as many problems as a well-implemented cloud solution can solve, it’s crucial to remember this tech does still come from actual providers with actual servers and locations. Only once you’ve thoroughly evaluated these real-world aspects of the cloud service should you change pivot to exploring the full benefits of the cloud platform.
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