Tips for Choosing a Cloud Provider

Practice Management Cloud computing service. Cupped hands holding cloud symbol.

Each business or individual will have different needs from their cloud provider. However, there are some common areas that everyone should consider when deciding which provider to choose.

Cost

First and foremost, this will be an area that everyone will look at, compare and consider when choosing a cloud provider. An important way to look at cost is to understand the billing for usage, data storage and services. All cloud providers have many tiers of service, sizes of systems, services and data costs. It will be important to have an understanding of your average utilization so you can accurately predict your costs and size your account appropriately to your business.

Compliance

What are the compliance needs for your business? Do you have regulatory requirements you have to comply with? Are you subject to audits? You will need to understand what is required of your business for compliance as well as for best practices in order to see if a cloud provider will meet your needs. Out of the box, the larger providers such as AWS, Azure, Google and IBM may be able to meet most compliance or regulatory needs you may have.

Data Security/Network Security

Each business will have its own needs for security. However, many of the large cloud providers have the capability to allow a business to enable a multitude of security controls to their accounts, their data storage and their users. Many cloud providers make it easy to enable multi-factor authentication for all users in your account, assign specific rights and roles to those users, encrypt your network traffic, encrypt your data at rest, manage and rotate your encryption keys, and many more options that may be relevant to your business.

The key here is understanding how to mitigate risk in your business, and ensure that any provider you choose will be able to provide the security services you require.

This will be a shared security model, where the cloud provider will be responsible for their infrastructure and you will be responsible for the software and configurations you install into your account. This is very important to note: if it is not explicitly part of your accounts contracted services, you are still responsible for patching, upgrading and maintaining your software, user and configurations of your account.

High Availability/Disaster Recovery

If you need as much availability as possible and the ability to recover quickly from any type of catastrophic event, you will need to understand what is available from different providers to be sure you choose the best option for your needs. More often than not, this can be aided by having your account replicated across multiple zones in the cloud, so that something affecting one zone will not prevent your business from connecting and maintaining your productivity.

Contracts, Reputations and Service-Level Agreements

Another area to investigate is the reputation of cloud providers. Searching for reviews online is a simple way to see if they have a good reputation amongst their own users and how they respond to complaints or issues from their user base.

You will also be able to see the type of contracts they offer, such as month to month, yearly, or something in between. You’ll want to understand their billing cycles, how you pay your bills and if there are any penalties for closing your account should you decide to go another route for your business.

It’s also important to understand the service-level agreements that come with your account. Do you get support, and if so, is it free or is there cost per call? In addition, what is the turnaround time for any support ticket you might have? In the midst of an urgent issue is the wrong time to find out that your provider has a 48-hour SLA to respond to your issue.

 

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but hopefully these areas will help you and your business to think through your requirements, and ask questions that will help you understand what you should receive from the cloud providers you’re considering. Hopefully this articles helps serve as a starting point as you prioritize the list of requirements for your business when considering cloud providers.

Editor’s note:  For more information on cloud providers and security, read Chris Denton’s article “Cloud vs. Desktop: What Does the Choice Mean for Security?” Learn about ProConnect™ Tax Online, Intuit’s cloud-based professional tax software.

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