Five tough questions to ask your cloud provider

Andy Longsurname

Wednesday 25 June 2014

Cloud computing has taken hold and heralded in a new era of flexibility for businesses. Before you rush for the savings and flexibility found with online data storage and access, make sure you’ve checked these five basics with your cloud provider.

Offering lower cost, scalable infrastructure, universal data access and more, cloud computing is ushering in an entirely new era of doing business. Yet for some, the cloud still remains a mysterious place, fraught with potential risks like service outages or data theft. Like all technologies, cloud computing is not immune to threats, but they can be minimised.

To protect your organisation and find the best solution for your business data, make sure you’re satisfied with your provider’s policies on the following.

1. How will your service protect my data?

To ensure the safety of your data, you’ll want to find out what third-party security certifications the provider holds, as well as how they encrypt data and manage encryption keys. At a minimum, data should always be encrypted at rest, in transit, as well as on mobile devices, and encryption keys should be separate from the data they protect. Also, be sure to find out who has access to your data and what measures they have in place to prevent unauthorised access.

2. What level of redundancy do you provide?

To minimise the chance of downtime due to a server problem, you want to choose a provider that offers a high level of redundancy for your data. While mirroring data using RAID technology is standard practice today, you’ll want to find out what level of data mirroring they provide (triplicate is ideal), as well as the locations of the facilities where your data will reside – the more geographically spread out, the better.

3. How do you back up my data?

In addition to redundancy, you’ll want to know how your provider handles their backups. For example, how many physical copies of your data do they store and where are the copies located? How often do they take full as well as incremental backups, and how far back in calendar time do the backups go in case you need to retrieve data existing in an earlier state?

4. What is your service level agreement (SLA)?

Your SLA is the service agreement between you and your provider, so be sure to get it in writing and read it over carefully. The SLA should, without ambiguity, cover the rights to your data, service and uptime guarantees, as well as the level of financial compensation and any remediation processes should your provider fail to live up to their agreement.

5. How easy is it to move my data to another provider?

Not all services are set up to port data to other providers, so you’ll want to ask this question up front and avoid any unpleasant surprises later if or when you decide to switch. Also, be sure to ask what measures they take to destroy your data once you terminate service.

Your cloud service provider is one of your most important business partners, so be sure to get the hard questions answered straight away. With the many benefits of cloud computing, finding the right provider could very well be the beginning of a happy and successful business relationship.