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By Chris Stark

As cloud
computing continues to take the IT industry by storm, it’s getting harder and
harder to tell the difference between a good cloud partner and a “me, too”
provider. Reminiscent of the dot com days, companies are popping up everywhere
claiming to be cloud computing experts. In this environment, it is more
important than ever to do your homework and sort out good, reliable companies
from those that just want to cash in on the impending financial windfall.

When
trusting valuable corporate information to a cloud provider, it is vital to
know exactly who is handling your information. Look to the cloud provider’s
past performance with multiple customers—ones that have been with them for five
or more years.  Any cloud provider that
you are considering should have a track record of success for all its
customers.

Batten down the hatches: Is my data safe on
the cloud?

When
considering moving to a cloud, the number one question customers usually ask
is, “Will my data be secure?”  With
the numerous security breaches in 2011
, it is imperative to understand
where and how the prospective cloud provider handles and stores data. Look for
a cloud partner that owns its network, equipment and data centers. Many
companies are outsourcing and reselling from third party providers, creating
additional points of failure and extra layers of risk for the consumer. Data
centers should be based in the United States, especially when dealing with
security and government contracting customers, to ensure that appropriate
rights and laws are enforced. The data centers should also be level-4, SAS
70-compliant with multiple redundancies to ensure data safety, security and
disaster recovery.

Another
question that is top-of-mind for many customers is, “What will happen to my data
if the cloud provider closes its doors?” Many large companies may appear to be
financially stable based on quarterly earnings or annual revenues, but are really
securing funding from investors rather than the profits of their own companies.
This is why it’s important to look for a company that is financially sound and
debt free.

It’s not the size, but the service that
counts

It is a
common misconception that a large or well-known company is the better choice as
a cloud partner. However, it is oftentimes the smaller, lesser-known companies
that offer better customer service and support. For instance, if you call the
helpline, will you be greeted by the familiar voice of a live person, or will
you have to enter your account number for the automated system? What are the
chances that your next trouble shooting call will be answered by Bill Gates or
Steve Jobs? Look for a company whose CEO talks directly to his or her customers,
and technicians who work directly for the cloud provider, not outsourced
through a third party.

Finding the perfect fit

There is a
99.99 percent chance that you don’t have an unlimited IT budget. This typically
means limiting the customization for any solution that you want to implement.
However, finding a cloud provider that offers the flexibility of utility-based
pricing means you can take into consideration both corporate and industry
challenges and requirements instead of trying to fit into a cookie-cutter
solution from a big-name player.  This
will not only ensure you receive a solution that overcomes the challenges
specific to you and your customers, but also creates the opportunity to
leverage applications that your company already employs. Look for a cloud
provider that has the capability of hosting your company or industry-specific
software for added flexibility.

The Perfect Storm: When Reliability is Key

And finally,
the most important point to consider is ensuring the reliability and uptime of
the network.  When companies such as Amazon are
experiencing repeated outages
, it’s important to find a cloud provider that
can not only show a track record of uptime, but guarantee it into the future. The
cloud provider’s network should take advantage of leading technologies and
industry-best practices for ensuring near 100 percent uptime and accessibility
to all your valuable corporate information anytime and anywhere.

With all the
companies in the market, it’s hard to determine where to hold your allegiances.
However, there is no better endorsement than that of a satisfied, long-term
customer. Do your homework before picking a cloud partner and you won’t be left
out in the rain.

ASCII Group
Member
, Christopher
Stark is the president and CEO of Cetrom
Information Technology
, Inc., a provider of comprehensive, cloud-based IT
solutions since 2001, proving 99.99 percent uptime guarantee to global SMBs.