Questions small businesses should ask about cloud computing – cloud applications, support and security

Last time on, we introduced the concept of cloud computing for new business owners. Here are some of the questions you should ask cloud providers about their service.

It’s no surprise that cloud computing services are so enticing to businesses: the minimal upfront costs, pay-as-you-go cost structure, flexible access to software and data, and the promise that the cloud vendor will handle the awkward, costly parts of IT.

Cloud services can make applications that were once the preserve of only the largest organisations, like CRM, sales management, contact centre software, call recording – available to any company, from a two-person business to a £20 million turnover organisation. It puts what were once the big kids’ toys in the hands of any business, irrespective of size.

However, using the cloud can still be perceived as a leap of faith. Some businesses are concerned about exactly how to choose the right cloud applications, how to get the best use from them, and if their data will be secure when it’s up there. To help dispel these doubts, here are the key questions you should ask a cloud service provider before committing.

Uses for cloud applications

Every business will have different needs and uses for cloud applications:  what you need to ensure is that you get the right service for your business. Ask the cloud service provider if their solution integrates with your existing solutions – your current phone system and handsets, your existing email and business software, and so on. Ask if they have specific examples of successful integrations for other clients. Alternatively, if you’re a start-up with minimal on-premise IT equipment, can the service provider accommodate this?

Cloud support

You can switch to cloud services and get them up and running within a day or less, but it’s vital to ensure the service provider can offer helpdesk support throughout implementation as well as through the initial stages of use. 

Although the software should be highly intuitive, you will always have questions on how to get the most out of the apps, and there will be teething issues while your staff learns to use them. The point of cloud computing is to help remove the IT support and management headaches. So, check that there are helpdesk resources for at least the first 30 days of use – not only will this help staff buy into the new service, it will build their confidence and, in turn, help your business get the most of the cloud apps.

Terms and conditions

Ask the service provider specifically about the terms and conditions of using the cloud applications. Is it truly flexible? Can new users be added and subtracted, and application modules and features employed as you need, on a month-by-month basis? Remember, your needs may go down as well as up: the service provider should accommodate this.

You should also ask what quality-of-service commitments and service-level agreements the vendor can offer. Can they say who hosts your business data? Is there a guaranteed level of application availability and uptime offered? Cloud apps are less prone to server or power failures, as the software and data is hosted in enterprise-class, secure data centres where it is constantly backed up. However, it’s good to know where your data resides, and the levels of performance and access that the cloud hosting offers you.

Cloud security

Last but by no means least, how secure is the cloud service you are implementing? Businesses cannot afford to lose data or fall victim to malware attacks.   As a general rule, cloud applications can offer higher security than many businesses on-premise IT as the infrastructure is less accessible to rogue employees or Trojan infections.  So your data is likely to be safer in the cloud – but ensure the service provider can reassure you of this with an overview of their session and storage security measures.

In conclusion, you should always ask what the cloud service provider can do for you: then you’re in the best position to know exactly what you can do in the cloud.

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