Seemingly everybody is talking about cloud solutions, from small businesses to large Enterprises.
It’s not hard to see why - the benefits over on-site deployments are numerous - rapid deployment, potentially lower costs of ownership, and reduced maintenance and administration, to name but three.
For IT companies and Managed Service Providers (MSP’s) offering solutions to their clients, the cloud equals opportunity.
Unsurprisingly, rather than investing the considerable time and effort required to develop their own cloud solutions from scratch, the majority of smaller IT solution providers instead partner with cloud service vendors to provide their clients with services ranging from CRM to backup.
But one of the benefits of cloud services - rapid deployment - can also lead some IT companies to look at partnerships with cloud vendors with rose tinted glasses. If things go wrong with the cloud service, the first complaints won’t come into cloud vendors - they’ll come into the IT solution providers selling those services.
For this reason alone, it’s important for IT Solution Providers to take a step back and ask potential cloud partners “What happens when things go wrong?”
Most cloud vendors worth their salt will be happy to answer probing questions about their services. If the answer is “Things never go wrong”, then ask for proof. What is the guaranteed uptime and what is their uptime track record across their entire customer base for the past three years? Statistics speak a lot more accurately than well meaning assurances.
Another question to ask cloud vendors around uptime and service availability might include “How much planned downtime do you have per year, and when is that downtime scheduled to occur?”. This clarifies the difference between any planned and unplanned downtime. You might also ask the cloud vendor what constitutes planned downtime with a question such as “How far in advance do you notify customers of planned downtime?” or “Are you contractually protected against planned downtime during normal business hours?”
The last question around “normal business hours” is an interesting one. One benefit of cloud services is that they can be located anywhere. But does the cloud providers “normal business hours” match your own, or are they awake when you are asleep?
One example of cloud services is data backup. It seems like everybody has a cloud based data backup offering - and it’s not difficult to understand why. With services such as Amazon S3, data storage, even for huge amounts of data, is quick to setup and cheap to use, allowing cloud backup providers to wrap a service around this space and re-sell it to IT providers.
For many clients, this will be fine. They don’t care where their data is stored.
But for others, they want to know which country their data is stored in and what applicable local laws apply.
This becomes even more important if the service is not cloud backup, but a mission critical system such as a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) or even the IT providers own Professional Services Automation (PSA) tool.
Don’t be afraid to ask cloud providers “Do you own your own equipment” and “Where is your equipment housed?”
Make sure to also ask “At what level in your infrastructure do you provide redundancy”.
When I spoke to cloud based PSA provider Autotask about their equipment redundancy, I was told that in addition to redundant Internet connectivity, and redundant circuits/carriers at their Datacentres, all their equipment and power was fully redundant at <50% capacity. For a cloud tool like Autotask that is considered a mission critical system by many MSP’s - this is important to know and understand.
In addition to the previously asked question about where data is stored, it’s also important to ask “What policies do you have in place to control employee access to data?”
One of the worlds largest banks, HSBC, suffered a security breach that led to hundreds of thousands of pounds being stolen from some UK customers. The breach? A 24-year worker was accused of accessing confidential information and passing it on to criminal associates. It’s not enough to ask how technically secure data is, but also how secure cloud vendor employees working on the data are.
Additionally, ask “Do any third parties have access to data or hardware that stores data?”. “How do you control physical access to your infrastructure” and “Is there a specific security policy in place?” of cloud vendors. Again, any vendor worth their salt will have their answers ready and forthcoming.
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask “Have you had a data breach in the last two years?”. Getting an answer to this question before you enter any partnership could be a deal-breaker.
Finally, while you can do all the due diligence in the world - sometimes a relationship with a cloud provider just doesn’t work. Whether the vendor un-delivers on cloud service, customer service, or both - you don’t want to be stuck in a long-term service that you cannot cancel.
Asking the question “If we are not satisfied with the service, can we cancel the contract without penalties?”. Most reputable cloud vendors will offer satisfaction levels with get-out clauses attached, and many vendors will openly share that they only want to work with partners who are happy, allowing those who aren’t a good fit to work with them to leave.
But if you don’t ask the question, don’t complain when you are obliged to honour a multi-year contract with a vendor who you aren’t happy with.
The cloud provides a massive opportunity for IT Solution Providers and MSP’s to rapidly develop and deploy solutions to their client base. But be aware that the outsourcing of such services doesn’t mean you can abdicate responsibility. Whether the cloud service you are buying is for internal use or to be sold on to a client - you need to go into a partnership with a cloud vendor knowing what it is you are buying.
As the former owner of an award winning IT Managed Service Provider, Richard Tubb works with MSPs to help them increase sales, take on employees and build up relationships with key industry contacts. You don't have to do it alone any more - contact Richard and have a chat about your needs and how he can help you.
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