These days, it seems like everyone is turning to the cloud for their data processing needs. According to Forbes, the cloud computing market is projected to exceed $400 billion by 2020, but like any other new concept or craze, there’s an element of uncertainty borne out of unfamiliarity. Like anything else, cloud computing has its own learning curve.
There is an assortment of cloud providers out there - each one promising the best in storage, service, accessibility, and security. How does one navigate through this crowded cloud wilderness? The advice below will aid you in your journey to choosing a cloud provider that fits your needs.
Different Needs, Same Goals
There are a variety of applications for cloud computing, some want a cloud provider on a personal level while many need the application to be company-wide. But there’s further division because in the latter case, each business is different and has its own unique needs and wants. Despite all of this diversity, there are certain cloud computing criteria that appeal and apply to all customer types, a universal set of things that any consumer, be it an individual or a company, should be on the lookout for.
It doesn’t take a lot of browsing to find stories of yet another data breach affecting a financial institution, or scandalous pictures from a celebrity’s personal account finding their way to the public. Security is, and will always be, the number one criteria for choosing the right cloud provider.
Specifically, when evaluating a potential provider, you should ensure that all user access and activity can be monitored and verified. Tracking the use of cloud applications lets you see where most activity takes place and identify regular patterns. A cloud provider should be able to recognize the patterns and user flow for those accessing a cloud instance and hence, alert and stop seemingly unauthorized attempts at access. It’s important to evaluate your agreement and know what security responsibilities will be handled by the provider themselves. Look into their compliance with standards (e.g. ISO 27000). Check into their history and see if they have any logged incidents of security breaches. In addition, as you go through the contract and legal processes, make sure that the provider you have selected adheres to the Cloud Security Standards set forth by the Cloud Standards Customer Council.
Don’t forget that the need for security is not limited to the cloud itself, but also for protection when the data is in transit to the cloud. This requires researching the provider’s encryption protocols. While this might seem like a minute detail, it is important to note that even though the transit time is minimal for most data, secure encryption will assure that any data committed to the cloud will remain private.
Coming in a close second on the priority list is the provider’s preparedness for handling the unexpected catastrophe. Whether it’s a natural disaster such as floods, hurricanes, or earthquakes or a more localized incident such as a fire, your company’s very survival can hinge on the quick recovery of crucial operational data. While data is seemingly held virtually in the cloud, cloud providers rely on actual centers of servers to store the data, so disaster plans are imperative.
Remember to ask the cloud provider you’re courting these important questions: What provisions has the provider made for disaster recovery efforts? How often do they perform data backups or integrity checks? Does the provider’s methods of data preservation meet your needs? How easy is it to access that data for restoration purposes?
And once again, make sure you have a clear idea as to what the provider takes responsibility for. The worst time to find out that the cloud host wasn’t responsible for a crucial step in your data recovery efforts is when you’re attempting to recover from a disaster. Know what the provider will and won’t cover.
Data stored in the cloud is of no use to you if it can’t be accessed due to provider downtime. Does the provider have a system for dealing with planned and unplanned downtime? Many providers give access to statistics measuring their performance as it stacks up against their service level agreement. If the provider in question doesn’t have such information readily available, feel free to ask them. A red flag is when they cannot or will not produce such metrics. If you’re faced with this, move onto another provider.
Let’s face it; no provider has a track record of 100% perfection. Problems happen, and sometimes things need to be shut down for mundane things such as maintenance and upgrades. The key question is, how are shutdowns and outages handled? Do they perform maintenance at certain intervals and if so, when and for how long? Among the many things cloud storage is supposed to provide is a peace of mind. How the provider handles planned and unplanned unavailability will determine how much confidence you can have in them.
Terms and Conditions
Everything from online video streaming memberships to credit cards to social media accounts comes with its own set of terms and conditions, and cloud providers are no exception. This is a pretty wide-ranging topic, covering aspects such as service delivery, insurance, fees, service level agreement, legal protection, service bundles, and pricing models. Consequently, it will most likely be the most time-consuming part of your provider comparison shopping.
Like many things, cloud service providers fall under the “you get what you pay for” axiom, and once you have settled the matters of security and reliability, the terms and conditions will give you a good idea as to how much those things will end up costing you and how they will be delivered.
Make sure there are no hidden exceptions or exclusions in their terms. Familiarize yourself with your cloud provider’s terms thoroughly. Be an informed consumer.
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All Good Things Must Come To An End
Finally, at some point, it’s very likely that you will leave your cloud provider. Maybe your company decides to bring cloud architecture in-house or maybe you’ve found a better deal elsewhere. Whatever the reason, when you do leave, you will have to deal with the departure process, and some providers are harder to leave than others.
Does the provider make it easy to transition out? Do they use any proprietary technology that makes it difficult if not impossible for you to transfer your data to a different service? Does the provider employ the tactic of enhancement creep, whereby policies and configurations are introduced after you sign on, thereby locking you into a contract? Asking these questions before you select a cloud provider will undoubtedly help you if you should ever need to transition your services to another provider or use in-house technology.
When it comes down to the final analysis, you choose the right cloud provider much in the same way as you choose any other good or service; identify your wants and needs, then shop around. A cloud is an excellent tool for handling data in the 21st century, and it’s worth taking the time and energy to find the one that suits you best.