22/02/2011

By Ian Moyse, EMEA Channel Director, Webroot

Some clouds are designed to please some businesses all the time, whilst other clouds can please all businesses some times, but no cloud can please all businesses all the time.

To many companies, the sky seems to be the limit with cloud computing. However, they are bound to be disappointed if they fail to see that not all cloud offerings are right for everyone by default. The one-size-fits-all solution doesn’t apply, even with something as flexible as cloud computing.

Are you a cloud user?

The idea of cloud computing has become a buzzword, not only within IT departments but it is also creeping up onto boardroom agenda. Cloud computing itself is indeed clouding many IT decisions today, and it doesn’t help when IT managers are presented with many related ideas including SaaS (Software as a Service), PaaS (Platform as a Service), IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service). Once these terms are clarified, companies will then be able to move on to choose from services either on a private or public cloud.

Understandably, some customers are put off by the hype of cloud computing, although they might not even be aware that they have been using cloud services themselves — for example, if they have a personal hotmail or gmail account, or if they use social networking sites such as Facebook or LinkedIn.

These are cloud applications that have by osmosis appeared in our lives, without any conscious decision made by the user of what they are actually using. Their decision is purely based on the benefits they saw, whether that meant mobility of access, or better connection with other people.

Fundamentals for choosing cloud computing

With cloud computing and SaaS expected to enjoy a compound annual grow of between 30 to 40 per cent in the next 5 years, vendors are rushing to push their cloud offering. From a customer point of view, it is obviously a good thing to have more choices, although they should be aware that in reality there is a wide range of maturity levels amongst vendors, with some of them just taking their first steps and looking for their first few candidates for experiment purposes.

There are some fundamental elements for organisations to consider before they make a decision on whether to deploy a cloud application. First of all, some applications are better suited to be in the cloud than others. For example, email filtering in the cloud is becoming the norm and it makes total sense to stop all spam and internet malware at the internet level — keeping it at its source. However, it might not be as easy to move a print management software to the cloud if there are 50 printers in the office that need managing.

Secondly, organisations should invest in evaluating the provider they are considering — not only for the brand, but also for their ability and delivery focus on the cloud. A large vendor may seem more attractive but does it have the pedigree of delivering a service which is very different to the traditional model of selling hardware/software instead of services? Do they have the true capabilities in this area to meet your requirements and deliver a quality service?

If unsure, always ask to see the financials of a potential vendor. This information is useful to find out where the vendor stands in the market, and how healthy it is as a supplier regardless of its size. Also ask about the technology — whether it is owned by the vendor itself or based on someone else’s, in which case the vendor might not have 100% control over it.

Things to check before signing up with a cloud service provider:

• What are the terms and conditions in the service level agreement (SLA)?

• Are there penalties if a supplier fails to deliver?

• What has the provider’s success rate been over a certain period?

• Can they provide customer testimonials? Can you speak to the customers directly?

• Who is going to support the services? Will it be their own supporting staff or a third party?

• Do they provide out of hours support? If so, what kind of support do you get?

• Where is the data stored? Is it in the UK, Europe, or the US?

• How often has the vendor updated its service in the past 12 months?

• Will you be getting ongoing value for money from the enhancements?

• Can you see the service roadmap the vendor delivered in the past year?

There is nothing to fear inherently about the cloud. Companies simply have to perform their diligence as they would when buying any other solution, as long as they know the right questions to ask.

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