Tuesday, May 18, 2010

9 Questions for Vendors About Cloud Computing

Cloud Computing: Look Before You Leap!
A Great article from the IDT Integration Insider


When it comes to paradigm shifts, cloud computing is one of the biggest to hit business in decades. In a nutshell: cloud computing is the delivery of computing resources as a service over the Internet. Say “good-bye mainframe” and “hello utility computing,” as vendors serve up computation and storage on a metered basis, similar to public utilities like the electric company. The advantages of cloud computing would make any red-blooded business executive’s heart beat faster: no capital investments, reduced operating costs, billing on a “pay as you use” basis, zero IT maintenance and 24/7 system access from anywhere you have an Internet connection. Plus, there is unlimited flexibility to scale up or down based on demand.

But before making the leap to Software as a Service (SaaS), one of three cloud delivery models, the smart executive wants to know about the risks – and how to mitigate them. With SaaS applications, user data is stored on third party servers in third party data centers, raising understandable concerns about security and privacy. In fact, the protections offered by major SaaS vendors often exceed what the vast majority of businesses can afford to provide themselves. Still, “look before you leap” is wise advice, so ask vendors these nine questions:

1. Does your application fit my business requirements and workflows?
Any application being evaluated should fit your existing workflows without major disruption, not just currently but as needs change and grow.

2. Will you be around for the long haul?
Nothing is more disruptive than a critical vendor going out of business. While there’s no silver bullet for determining long-term viability, check out: management bios, client references, customer base, financial standing, media coverage, blog postings.

3. How will you keep my data secure?
Don’t settle for a general policy overview, drill down into procedures at data centers, vetting for technicians, authentication protocols, encryption levels. Check on ability to meetcompliance requirements specific to your industry.

4. Can you guarantee the privacy of user information and user data?
Beyond general privacy policies, ask about data-related laws in countries where infrastructure is located. Find out if customer data is used in promotion and advertising or sold to third parties for marketing purposes.

5. What are your terms and policies about ownership of data?
Your data should be your data, period. Find out what happens to it when you delete it from the application, or if you discontinue their service.

6. What is your uptime performance, and do you offer Service Level Agreements?
No matter how great the SaaS application, if it isn’t available, your business can take a hit. There should be multiple copies of data stored in geographically diverse data centers. Check that a disaster recovery strategy is in place.

7. How often do you upgrade and perform maintenance on your application?
Downtimes due to maintenance should be minimal.

8. How easy is it to integrate with other applications?
Some vendors offer integration services internally, others use third-party providers. If it’s important that you easily integrate with existing SaaS applications, ask how that’s handled.

9. What level of customization do you offer?
It varies by vendor. Custom domain options, branding, customized transaction definitions and workflows, and data field customization are a few examples. Ask if the application can be extended, or if permissioning – who has access to what – can be customized. Cloud computing is an exciting innovation with a potentially dramatic impact on business technology as we know it. The next time someone asks, “Is your head in the clouds?” you can reply, “Yes, but I knowwhich questions will keep my business on solid ground.”

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