The decision on which Cloud partner to use for your business is a big one.

A bad decision can be an expensive mistake. It isn’t just a simple matter of looking for the largest or best known – big is not always best.

There are a number of things to look out for and some risks to manage.

1) Contact

When selecting a Cloud partner, you should remember you’re selecting a partner. The relationship cannot be a one-way street. You can guarantee they’ll contact you if they want to upsell to you or if you owe them money, but you need to make sure you can contact them too. If you want to change your services or to speak to someone about your account, make sure you can.

Also, inevitably, from time to time, something may go wrong. Make sure that if that should happen, you know you’ll get an answer. Don’t be caught out by Cloud providers that hide behind contact forms. Make sure there’s a phone number to call and someone at the end of it to take your call.

If they’re a true partner, you’ll be able to talk to them whenever you need to.

2) Contract

Some data centre providers offer no terms and no contract at all. This should be avoided at all costs. It is fine to have a rolling monthly service with terms that are fair and equitable to both sides. But it’s not fine to have no terms at all. If the worst happens, you’ll have no rights either.

And having made sure there are clear terms in place, make sure these suit your business. The whole point of a Cloud service is that it is flexible and can be turned up and down when needed – giving your business vital agility. Don’t be forced into signing up for something just because it’s the only flavour offered. A Cloud service should be configured in the way that’s best for your business.

3) Confidence

Make sure you are confident in your Cloud partners’ ability to deliver what you need. Have a look at their service record, make sure it meets your expectations and that they aren’t going to be interrupting your service (either intentionally or unintentionally) when you need it.

There are hundreds - probably thousands - of stories of small businesses who bought services from a Cloud provider because they were the biggest, or the best-known, or they offered other well-known services or products - and then lived to regret it. Don’t be pushed into selecting a Cloud provider just because someone tells you to. If you have doubts, don’t do it. Trust your instincts – they’re invariably right.

4) SLA

Make sure there’s a guarantee around service levels and clear consequences for your provider if they fail to meet them. You need to have the comfort in your business that the partner you’ve selected takes you seriously.

There’s simply no excuse for a Cloud provider to offer no service levels – and equally no excuse for a customer to sign up to a service with no SLA! Don’t put your business at risk. Make sure there’s an SLA and that it’s measureable and achievable.

5) Service

This may sound odd, but Cloud is a service. And customer service is not an option, it is absolutely a requirement. There are too many cases of small businesses signing up to services and then, when things go wrong, being left at the bottom of the pile when it comes to help to get back up and running.

If the Cloud provider either offers no demonstrable customer care or has a poor reputation for service, don’t sign up with them! There are plenty more out there that will offer you good service. Don’t be a statistic, be a customer!

Risks to manage

There are also always risks when selecting a Cloud partner of which you need to be aware.

One common risk is that you don’t know the location of your data. This is very important. Ultimately, you are responsible for your data and you don’t want to fall foul of data protection laws or other regulations that affect your industry.

It’s your data, make sure you know where it is!

Cloud lock-in is another big risk for businesses. It is all very well for a Cloud provider to offer you a clean and easy migration path to their service. But do they offer an easy migration path away from their service if you choose another provider in the future or your business needs change?

Make sure you ask about the migration path away from the service before you sign up. When you want to migrate away, it will be way too late if you don’t know how you are going to do it!

Selecting a Cloud provider or partner, then, is a big decision. Make sure you do your research well in advance. Don’t get caught out by the pitfalls, and make sure you’ve covered the ‘must haves’.

If you get the right Cloud provider, the services they offer will be a huge benefit for your business.

Cloud is a good thing, but it’s not a decision to be taken lightly!

By Alex Rabbetts, CEO of MigSolv