Questions Every SMB Should Ask Cloud Hosting Providers

Increasingly, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are relying on cloud service providers (CSPs) to help accelerate their growth. A CSP provides smaller enterprises with greater business agility to respond to competitive pressures, to exploit advances in IT, save capital, to enter new markets and grow their businesses.

As with any decision, it’s important to practice due diligence when choosing a cloud hosting provider for your critical managed business applications. There are dozens of potential cloud hosting providers out there as you consider moving your data from on-premise hosting to off-premise, so you may find yourself wondering what important points you should think about and what questions to ask during your search.

There are numerous factors to think about as you make this decision, however, there are seven critical points to consider as you select the best CSP for your business:

  • -Experience
  • -Pricing
  • -Security
  • -Compliance
  • -Service levels (uptime, availability, capacity)
  • -Disaster recovery
  • -Support

7 Considerations During Cloud Adoption

Cloud services are flourishing across the world. Gartner predicts that through 2020, cloud adoption strategies will influence more than 50 percent of IT outsourcing deals.

A healthy percentage of the cloud adoption stems from SMBs, who are increasingly relying on CSPs to help accelerate their growth. Applications and services previously available only to large enterprises are now benefiting millions of smaller businesses thanks to the cloud.

As IT gets more complex and sophisticated, it gets more expensive for SMBs to keep pace. A CSP provides smaller enterprises with greater business agility to respond to competitive pressures, to exploit advances in IT, and to enter new markets and grow their businesses.

Turning over everyday and mission-critical business applications, like QuickBooks or hosted Sage, to a CSP is a big step. You need a trusted cloud hosting services partner, especially when your software is involved. To choose from the many CSPs out there, you need to vet prospects with the right questions.

Experience

SMBs should look for a CSP that has success with businesses and technology similar to theirs, I.E. bookkeepers or accountants should turn to a provider who specializes in financial technology hosting, such as QuickBooks cloud hosting. The CSP should have demonstrable experience moving applications to the cloud, and processes in place to help ensure a smooth migration.

Questions to consider:

  • 1. How long has the CSP been in business? Years in business is only one measure of experience, and not necessarily the most important one. Ask about the CSP’s target clients and applications and services expertise. How many support engineers does the CSP have? Are they up on the latest technology?
  • -2. How will the CSP relate to you on an ongoing basis? Will there be one person assigned to you or different people for individual services? How will service-related matters be communicated? What is the contact information and hours of contact? Will service or integration status reports be provided regularly? Does the CSP have a self-service portal or web interface for communications?
  • -3. Can the CSP scale to meet your business needs? As your business grows, you want to be assured the CSP has the staff, capacity, and other resources to scale with your business. Can you easily add additional users to your account? You want a CSP with the resources and flexibility to scale up when your business expands and scale down if your business contracts.
  • -4. For data migration, what are the duties of the CSP? What are your duties? Ask for documentation showing all the migration steps the CSP will handle and what you will be responsible for. You don’t want to discover gaps in the process during an actual migration. Can virtual machines be imported, or will you have to move data and applications to new machines? Does the CSP perform migrations regularly? What is the CSP’s record for minimizing downtime and maintaining data integrity?
  • -5. How can you get your data back, if needed? If your service agreement with the CSP ends, you need to know the terms for retrieving your data. How much time do you have to get the data? How long does the CSP hold data before deleting it? Can you retrieve your data without assistance from the CSP? What format will the retrieved data be in?
  • -6. If you’re thinking about switching to QuickBooks hosting: is the provider an Intuit certified hosting provider or partner? The best cloud hosting providers aren’t just experts in cloud hosting, they’re also experts in the products they host and should have the ability to demonstrate trusted relationships with the brands they work with.

Pricing

Cost savings is one of the chief benefits of using a cloud hosting provider, as is the advantage of having predictable recurring costs. Cloud computing is based on a usage model. Usage can fluctuate, however, and service-level agreements (SLAs) can also impact price. As with any outsourced service, it’s important to understand the CSP’s pricing structure and exactly what you’re paying for.

Questions to consider:

  • -1. For each service you want, what are you purchasing and what is the cost? What is the CSP doing for the pay-as-you-go service? Is the cost based on data size, data usage, number of users, or another condition? If there are add-on services, what is the cost and process for adding them? Are fees charged hourly, monthly, semi-annually, or annually?
  • -2. If your service agreement with the CSP ends, when will billing cease? Also, find out how termination is communicated. Email, phone, written letter?

Security

Security is a top concern when it comes to outsourcing any business application or service. Security measures should be in place not only for the CSP’s hardware and software, but also for the provider’s data centers and personnel. Additionally, the same provider may have different security standards for different services.

Questions to consider:

  • -1. Where are the CSP’s data centers located, and do they adhere to Canada’s data sovereignty regulations? Inquire about the location of the data centers and servers where your company’s information will be stored. If outside the U.S., do laws of another country affect use of the data? Can the CSP follow the privacy requirements of the locations your company does business in? Are data centers geographically dispersed to help ensure recovery from natural or other disasters?
  • -2. How are the data centers safeguarded physically? Physical access to the provider’s data centers should be strictly controlled in multiple ways, for example, badge readers on external doors, biometric locking mechanisms throughout the facility, and keyed or combination locks on cabinets. What other measures are in place to prevent data and equipment theft? Are the loading docks secure?
  • -3. What security software and technology does the CSP use? Ask about antivirus, anti-malware, firewall, data encryption, and other security protections. Does the CSP conduct background checks on its employees?
  • -4. How is your data protected during transit? Ensure the provider can guarantee data segregation and protection for documents and data during transfer. Is SSL encryption used? Is SSL from a third-party Certificate Authority, or CA?
  • -5. What are the CSP’s authentication and access procedures? The cloud provider should demonstrate adequate oversight and access controls. How is access authenticated? Is multifactor or 2-factor authentication used? How granular is the access, for instance, do you have the ability to access specific folders?
  • -6. Who has access to your server physically and virtually? Are there locks, alarms, or other physical security safeguards to protect your data from unauthorized access. How is your data accessed virtually? Is it over a VPN? Is it encrypted?
  • -7. How is your data segregated from the data of other clients – do they use a shared server farm or dedicated server hosting? Ask the CSP to describe its multitenant architecture. If the CSP is sharing hardware resources among multiple clients, or tenants, what protections are in place to ensure your data remains isolated? If disks are reused, how well are they scrubbed before being allocated to another tenant? If the provider offers dedicated server hosting, is network segmentation used as a security practice?
  • -8. How long will the CSP store your data? Find out when and how your data will be deleted to ensure it can’t be accessed later. Does the CSP provide all the data storage in-house, or is it outsourced to a third party?
  • -9. What monitoring and reporting controls are in place? How is the provider’s network monitored? How does the CSP monitor its data centers and network? Are security personnel available 24/7? Can the CSP supply proof of monitoring and reporting controls, if investigated?

Compliance

Any SMB that has government or industry compliance requirements must vet the CSP’s commitment to helping ensure those requirements are met consistently.

Questions to consider:

  • -1. What compliance standards does the CSP have expertise in?Practices and procedures for compliance should be documented and up to date.
  • -2. What measures are in place to ensure that data will comply with regulatory audits? The CSP’s platform should meet rigorous privacy and compliance standards. Are independent audits of the provider’s infrastructure, services, and operations conducted periodically? Does the provider undergo third-party audits or certifications?

Service Levels

When it comes to SLAs, there shouldn’t be any doubt over precisely what they do and do not cover. Learn about each server’s redundancy and ask for details and related costs about the restoration process.

Questions to consider:

  • -1. What uptime does the CSP commit to? Ask about the provider’s uptime history and what practices they have in place to back up their uptime percentage
  • -2. How does the CSP manage capacity? What processes and systems are in place to anticipate and respond to impending needs and fluctuating workloads? Is capacity added when utilization reaches a specified percentage or other threshold?
  • -3. In a shared server environment, how many other clients will be sharing the same bandwidth as you? What minimum upload and download speeds can you expect on a consistent basis? You want to ensure sufficient bandwidth for your applications to perform well.
  • -4. In a dedicated server environment, how can you customize your server? When using dedicated server hosting, you do not share any resources with any other companies. With dedicated cloud hosting, you can also customize your server according to your unique needs. What 3rd-party applications can you integrate? How much storage or memory can you have? How many users at your company can access your dedicated server at a time?
  • -5. How is resource utilization monitored and reported? How are alerts issued? Under what conditions? How thoroughly does the CSP monitor its environment? Are real-time monitoring tools used consistently?
  • -6. How does the CSP ensure performance and availability? Are there any single points of failure in critical systems? If so, how are they handled? Will your application run on a single data center or geographically redundant systems? Is effective load balancing done to handle requests on multiple servers?

Disaster Recovery

Outages are bound to happen. You need to know if you, the CSP, or both are responsible for recovery. All disaster recovery measures should put a priority on security and uptime.

Questions to consider:

  • -1. What is the CSP’s backup and recovery strategy? The provider should have complete data restoration capability. How often are backups performed? Is backup conducted offsite? Is backup data encrypted? What data redundancies are in place to mitigate the risks of data loss? Is there a documented disaster recovery plan?
  • -2. Are there provisions in the SLAs that address data loss? Recovery SLAs for your applications? Will the provider compensate you for losses? Does the CSP have insurance in the case of an outage or data loss? Has the CSP experienced any significant issues resulting from the loss of customer data? Ask the CSP about recovery point objectives (RPOs) and recovery time objectives (RTOs).

Support

The level of support an SMB needs depends on the SMB’s internal IT expertise and the complexity of the applications or services. One SMB may never have to call on the CSP for support, while another SMB may depend heavily on the CSP for guidance and troubleshooting. Regardless of the level of support needed, a CSP should be backed by knowledgeable, reliable tech support.

Questions to consider:

  • -1. Is tech support offered around the clock? It should be. You shouldn’t have to worry about being in a situation without available support. At Summit Hosting, for example, we offer 24/7/365 live-ticketing support; our connectivity support team is available after-hours, on weekends and even during the holidays. Also, ask how many support engineers does the CSP employs. What’s the average response and resolution time, or mean time to respond and mean time to repair? Are self-service alternatives in place, with live representative backup?
  • -2. How does the CSP keep up with advances in technology? What training does the support staff undergo? What industry and vendor certifications do they hold? Are the certifications up to date?
  • -3. What additional customer resources are available? Does the cloud hosting provider offer frequently asked questions with answers? What about how-to or informative videos or training for their hosting services?

At a Glance…

As time progresses, the adoption of cloud services will only continue to rise. These days, the business agility and competitive gains of using a cloud hosting provider are too compelling for most businesses to dismiss without consideration. Thorough vetting of prospective CSPs should allay any lingering reservations an SMB may have about cloud adoption; and help to lay the foundation for a lasting relationship with a trusted cloud hosting partner.

Dedicated Managed Application Hosting

At Summit Hosting, we’ve been a leading provider for QuickBooks and Sage hosting in North America for over ten years. We specialize in secure hosting on dedicated servers, and offer 24/7 real-human connectivity support to our customers.

If you’re interested in learning more about how our cloud hosting services can help increase your efficiency, grow your business and save you money while providing the flexibility to access your data remotely from any device, reach out to us today! Our cloud hosting specialists are happy to help: 888-244-6559.