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10 Make or Break Questions to Ask Your Cloud Computing Vendor

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There’s no doubt that high energy and excitement surround the promise of cloud computing. As a transformational technology, cloud computing is a catalyst for change within the IT landscape because it helps companies of all sizes more efficiently use their hardware and software investments, while also fostering innovation. Subscription-based cloud platforms can save business owners money on initial IT outlays, enabling them to reinvest in improving customer service. It can be an all around win-win. Still, the cloud is not without its perils, potholes and pitfalls. As a customer considering the cloud, your first priority is to focus on finding the right solution to meet your business needs.

Because many vendors look good on paper, you’ll want to cover the most important selection criteria to minimize your risks and increase your comfort level. How do you know which cloud vendor will match its headlines? Ask the following 10 make-or-break questions before you sign on the dotted line:

1. The Basics: Right out of the gate, you’ll want to learn as much as you can about the cloud vendor. Determine if they’re operating out of their basement or if they have the kind of credibility that can only be gained from experience and success. If your chosen cloud vendor waffles when you ask detailed questions about their 24x7 support service, their industry, the advantages of their solution or the difference between a tier 3 or tier 4 datacenter, then you might want to simply walk away from a nightmare ready to happen.

2. Security and Availability: Learn about how they deal with and monitor security issues, install patches and perform maintenance updates. Does it match your company’s expected level of security or service? Ask where they host data and if it’s a shared or a dedicated environment, and find out how many servers they have and if those servers are set in a cluster. It’s also critical to know if the infrastructure is mirrored and 100 percent redundant. While you’re at it, investigate their disaster recovery processes and determine if they operate out of a Tier 1 or Tier 4 data center.

3. Migration Services: Migration can be a nightmare. Make sure your cloud vendor has a dedicated, allocated resource for migration and a proven track record of migrating similar IT solutions to the cloud. Ask if their migration processes are automated or done manually. Ask for a commitment from the vendor on the migration ETC (estimated time of completion).  Finally, find out if you can perform and manage the whole process from an intuitive, easy-to-use control panel.

4. Integration: This is a deal breaker. Be sure to ask how their solution integrates with your current IT environment and other solutions.  What’s their track record and game plan when it comes to integrating with other, on-premise solutions you already have installed? If halfway down the road they realize it does not integrate, what is their contingency plan and what kind of guarantees are they willing to offer?

5. Support Professionals: You can never ask too many questions about support. For example, you’ll want to know how many support agents your cloud vendor deploys and if they are Level 1, 2 or 3 in terms of training, certification and capability. Also, find out about your vendor’s escalation process if a problem arises. Learn as much as you can about the location of the vendor’s support center, whether it’s housed offshore, available 24x7x365, and other pertinent criteria.

6. Uptime Metrics and Reports: Find out how your vendor measures uptime and how that’s communicated to clients, such as what part of the hosting infrastructure (hosting, server reliability, service delivery, etc.) the uptime calculation takes into account. Ask about processes in place for handling major outages: do they have a SWOT team in place, how do they typically communicate with the client (phone, email, RSS Feed, Twitter, SMS), and at what speed and with what level of details.  Determine if they are proactive or proactively reactive when a problem occurs.

7. Assess the Vendor’s Sales Process: Does the rep take the time to understand your company’s needs or is he or she just selling for sales’ sake? If the rep spends time to assess your business requirements, it’s likely that same attitude permeates the entire company. Industry studies show that many applications sold out of the box fail to meet the customer’s requirements because they’re not customized to the client’s needs. Make sure that the vendor pays attention to what you need and not just what they want to sell. Finally, after-sale support can tell you a lot about the seriousness, professional nature and quality of the internal processes of an organization.

8. How is Pricing Set Up?: Obviously, pricing is an important question to ask. You’ll want to learn about the vendor’s billing and pricing structure. Most set up billing as a recurring, monthly item, but it’s always good to do your homework. Are you being asked to sign a contract, or does your deal automatically renew, as with an evergreen agreement? If the vendor’s price is unusually low compared to others, it should raise a red flag. Find out why. Can you cancel at any time without hidden fees? Do you have a minimum of users required in order to get the most attractive price?

9. Multiple Services: With the cloud, it’s particularly important to pick a vendor with a large breadth of offerings because the likelihood is that, at some point, you might want to consolidate all of your IT under one hood. Find out if your cloud vendor is capable of something like that.

10.  Ask for References: There’s comfort in knowing you’re not their first customer, and seeing their successes lined up on the wall will bring you added confidence in your decision. Ask for examples of real-world success and ROI measurements. Better yet, try to get outside confirmation of their success such as industry recognition, peer reviews and awards.

By thoroughly covering this ground, you’re most likely to find not only the right cloud vendor, but also the best solutions for your company and your clients.

Renee Bergeron is VP of managed services and cloud computing at Ingram Micro, overseeing such efforts as Ingram Micro Cloud. Monthly guest blogs such as this one are part of MSPmentor's annual sponsorship program. Read all of Bergeron's guest blogs here.

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