Cloud Services: Choosing the Right Provider

Like a front rolling in on the horizon, the cloud has taken the business world by storm, promising convenience and efficiency like never before. If your small business has its finger in the air, it's probably getting mixed signals about which cloud providers offer what, and whom they can rely on. Consider the following guidelines to help make sense of the virtual forecast.

Get to Know Your Clouds

Just as there are different types of clouds in the sky, there are different types of cloud-based services available for business. Some store and secure your files so you can free up server space. Others provide access to software that can help you carry out tasks, like bookkeeping or graphic design.

One of the easiest ways to find out if the cloud can actually help your business is to Google it. Just type in “cloud-based [service you’re looking for]“ and you’ll soon find out. Chances are, whether you run an accounting firm, recording studio, an ad agency or other business, the cloud can lend a hand.

Vet Like a Meteorologist

If you’ve found a cloud-based service you’d like to try, there are a number of checklist items that should be met before you commit.

If you’re using the cloud to store and access files, security should be your top concern. Check with the provider to see how they safeguard your data. Many will include this information on their website, but don’t feel as though you can’t explore further. Losing important customer information, like social security numbers, can cause numerous headaches and setbacks most small businesses aren’t prepared to handle.

Downtime is another issue you’ll want to address. While most providers remain up and running virtually 24/7, there is always a risk of technical issues that could prevent you from accessing data or software. Again, check the provider’s site, or email the company contact. Savvy cloud users will often ask where the provider’s servers are located and/or how they’re protected from natural disasters, just to be sure everything’s legit.

Ask Observers What They’re Seeing

Like storm chasers and tornado spotters, cloud users can hail from anywhere, and each has important information you can use to assess what’s going on in the sky.

Start with local small businesses you network with to get their take on why they use the cloud-based services they do and what they like or dislike about them. Search the online community for information that can help you make an informed decision. Several providers offer free trial periods; take them up on the offer and test whether their services are right for you. Ask peers how shifting to cloud-based services has impacted their overall budget. Some businesses save hundreds or more paying monthly cloud fees instead of buying software upgrades every few years. Evaluate whether you’ll experience similar cost efficiencies.

Once you’ve done your homework and have chosen a cloud-based service or two, gauge whether the ones you’re using are delivering what they promised. Within a few weeks you should know if they’re effective.

Finally keep your eyes and ears open for new developments that could impact the services you’re using, or new ones that might benefit your business. Like the weather, the cloud is continually changing, and the more you adapt the more effective you’ll be.

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