Should you choose a cloud package? How much will it cost? Which supplier should you choose?  These are typical questions that you as a business owner or manager are likely to have when considering investing in a cloud service.  This guide addresses these questions and provides tips on buying these services and what may be hidden in the small print.

You should read it along with two other resources:

Cloud computing is a very broad term under which a wide variety of services are categorised, not all of which are relevant to your business. Most smaller businesses will more than likely only need Business Process as a Service (BPaaS) and/or Software as a Service (SaaS) cloud computing.

For most small businesses, BPaaS and SaaS provide a way of utlilising a host of essential software and technical services that would otherwise be cost-prohibitive or difficult to manage and maintain as on-premises solutions.

The cost of the cloud

The cost of cloud computing can range hugely. It can cost as little as €10 per month for access to an online accounting package for a firm employing up to approximately 15 people. However, it can also run to several thousand a month for a business with more than 100 employees seeking to outsource its IT infrastructure, line of business applications and business productivity applications to a hybrid cloud developed and maintained by an IT services supplier.

For a typical smaller business consisting of, say, five people, looking for basic business productivity, email, collaboration, customer relationship management and accounting packages, this should not amount to more than a few hundred euro per month in operating costs.

Making the move to the cloud

Most BPaaS solutions require no implementation other than signing up for the service. These service providers often offer a wide range of eLearning and online training user education materials.

SaaS implementations require more support, especially during initial configuration and especially where data is being migrated from an existing in-house IT system like a mail server to a cloud-based solution like an email service.

Fortunately, there a wide range of independent IT service companies who are certified by service suppliers to carry out implementations and training. Service suppliers often carry details of these independent solution providers on their websites.

Choosing between different suppliers

When you decide to put your data in the cloud, you need to pick your supplier carefully, paying particular attention to the small print. In particular, you need to understand who owns the data and what happens to the data when the contract is terminated. For example, what happens if your supplier goes out of business? What will happen to the assets?

Understand what procedures are in place if the service goes down. Also, make sure that your supplier is viable. Experts advise that you make sure your contract includes an escape clause, in case your provider doesn’t perform as advertised.

The Service Level Agreement (SLA) is a key differentiator between different service suppliers. Understand the details. Remember that no cloud provider will reimburse you for loss of business because the service is unavailable. They may give you back the money you spent on the service but that is small comfort if you lose a customer.

The SLA describes what obligations the vendor takes on and what risks you have to assume. Read the fine print and be sure that you are satisfied with the risk you are taking on. The SLA may help you decide which parts of your IT requirement should live in the public cloud and which parts you keep in-house.

Many cloud vendors have SLAs that stipulate their service will be functional 99.999% of the time. Over a year, this means that the service will be down for 5.256 minutes a year.

But many SLAs exclude scheduled maintenance, cyber attacks or events like wars or strikes from the 99.999% commitment. Always remember it is not just about being compensated if a service isn’t available, but also the risk to your business if it stops you from trading.

How to get started

Many BPaaS solutions require no implementation beyond signing up with a credit card, and no special skills to use beyond those that can be learned from the learning materials supplied on the suppliers’ websites or widely available one-day courses.

BPaaS solutions like PayPal or eBay, however, can act as powerful multipliers of business capability and profit even for a micro-business with a small investment of time and resources.

Help with choosing a more complex SaaS business solution can be sought from an IT consultant who can help you determine your needs and develop a cloud strategy that supports your long-term business goals. The IT consultant can also help identify and assess certified independent cloud solution providers to implement your strategy and provide training for you and your staff.

3 Action Points

1

Decide what services can be managed in a public cloud. Public cloud services offer great flexibility and ease of use. However, before you sign up, do your homework.  Because of security and compliance, you may need to keep certain services, data or business processes inside your own data center or on-premises.

2

Plan for leaving. Many companies using SaaS don’t plan for the future, including considering what happens if their SaaS vendor goes out of business, becomes too expensive or isn’t as good as a new vendor who better meets your needs. Plan for how you can move your data from one cloud to another, and make sure your selected provider offers a simple and inexpensive way to move your data.

3

Read the Service Level Agreement. All cloud vendors offer some form of SLA. The SLA outlines what the supplier is responsible for, and what risk you are assuming for your business. Make sure the level of risk is acceptable before you sign the contract. Remember that no service provider will undertake risks that it doesn’t have to. So, it’s up to you to read the fine print, and understand what you are getting into.