5 questions to ask when moving data to the cloud

Thursday, 3 March 2016 by Jennifer Duits

Moving data from on-premise storage solutions to cloud based storage is an IT decision that's increasingly tempting to many small businesses. The technology can offer a wide range of benefits, from cost savings to boosting a company's agility, and it's particularly advantageous for companies that don't have a large IT department and have limited budget to spend in this area.

Moving to the cloud can enable these organisations to access tools that would otherwise be far beyond their financial reach, as well as enabling them to take advantage of expert support and quickly scale up their operations as their business grows.

Therefore, it's no surprise that in a survey by Right Scale, Cloud Computing Trends: 2015 State of the Cloud Survey revealed that 82 percent of enterprise business respondents are currently running at least two cloud services. The figures may be different in other countries around the world, but the trend toward cloud usage will not vanish. However, there's a lot more to the technology than simply signing up with a provider, migrating key data to the service, and then sitting back and waiting for the savings to arrive.

There are a wide range of questions that small businesses need to ask before moving to the cloud in order to be sure their data is secure and accessible at all times. With this in mind, here are five of the most important considerations that must be taken into account before any service agreement is signed.

  1. Who is responsible for your data storage?

One of the first steps needs to be determining who is responsible for any data stored in the cloud. Typically, even though the data centres will be owned by the cloud provider, ultimate responsibility for information remains with the customer. So if there is a breach or data loss incident, it will usually be the business, not the provider that is held liable.

It's also vital to understand where data is being physically held, as this can have legal consequences. For instance, if data is stored on servers located in the UK, it will fall under that country's jurisdiction and will be subject to different privacy standards than if it were in the US.

  1. What's the expected reliability?

Reliability should also be a top concern, particularly if mission-critical data is being stored in the cloud. Any amount of downtime will result in businesses losing money, so it's important that firms understand what level of uptime they can expect - and what contingencies are in place to ensure this.

Make sure you know what the promises made by a cloud provider will translate to in real terms. A guaranteed uptime of 99.9 per cent may sound good on paper, but over the course of a year, this can leave you without service for nearly nine hours before the provider breaches its obligations. On the other hand, a 99.999 per cent guarantee will equate to just five minutes of downtime a year.

  1. What security is in place? 

Understanding what protections are in place to keep your data safe is also crucial, particularly if sensitive information is being migrated to cloud services, or if firms work in regulated industries where standards such as PCI-DSS or ISO 27001 are critical.

Cloud providers must be able to provide adequate answers to these questions. If they do so, their services are likely to be just as secure as on-premises solutions, if not more so, as they will offer resources that small businesses cannot afford on their own.

  1. What level of support is available? 

Small businesses in particular may find themselves more dependent on the expert advice and support offered by cloud providers. While a large company may be able to set up a public or private solution and manage it on their own, this could prove very complex and time-consuming for less-sizeable competitors.

These companies therefore need to determine what help is available from their cloud service partner, such as maintenance and automatic upgrades. Making the right choice here could be the difference between a successful deployment and one where a business is unable to take full advantage of the tools offered.

  1. What's in the small print?

Businesses should ensure they take the time to read the fine print of any cloud service level agreement, as this will often detail key clauses that prove to be important further down the line. For example, it will often spell out what level of compensation a customer is entitled to if uptime guarantees are not met, as well as what the disaster recovery procedures are.

It should also explain what will happen to a business' data at the end of a contract. The last thing a firm needs is to discover much later that a cloud provider has failed to wipe its data fully; potentially leaving them open to problems.

Small businesses that get satisfactory answers to these five questions will be well on the way to a strong relationship with a cloud provider they can work with for years to come, safe in the knowledge that their data is secure and will always be there when they need it.