Are you ready for cloud computing?

Are you ready for cloud computing?With cloud computing services available to take care of everything from your accounts to file storage, it's no surprise that small businesses are increasingly making the cloud the default choice for their IT services

However, despite the prevalence of cloud computing in the digital era, the fact remains that not every business is ready for cloud computing.

Neil Cross from Advanced explains seven key things to consider before adding cloud computing to your IT strategy.

1. Work out what you want cloud computing to achieve and why

Every aspect of your business IT should be about improving how your company operates in some way.

It's not about technology for technology's sake. Cloud computing is no different, so make sure you understand what improvements you want the cloud to bring you.

Consider cloud services alongside other options and evaluate the benefits and drawbacks of each. Moving to cloud computing because it looks cheap and everyone else is using it? That's not a good enough reason.

2. Understand your overall business needs - not just IT needs

Many businesses decide to adopt cloud computing to make their IT systems more efficient.

However, cloud computing can mean fundamental changes to your IT infrastructure and an end to services and procedures with which staff are inherently familiar, so it's vital the proposed changes are well-suited to your entire business. Cost savings alone may not be enough to justify such big changes.

3. Prepare thoroughly before you start using cloud computing

It might seem obvious, but it's surprising how many businesses don't do this. Plan the introduction of cloud computing meticulously. Work out how it will be adopted, managed and monitored.

You can access 'on demand' cloud services in minutes with your credit card or via free trials - this can be a good way to experiment with different options and try some practical examples of cloud computing in your business. However, this doesn't mean you should become complacent about the planning required.

4. Make it less complicated as well as less expensive

Cloud computing won't necessarily save you money. Most cloud services appear cheap, because they charge a small amount each month. But those monthly fees can soon add up and you may wish to add bolt-ons or additional user accounts which can significantly increase the monthly cost.

Additionally, things might get more complicated. You'll have to work out how to manage your cloud supplier(s) and how to link the different parts of your business IT together. For example - do you have existing integrations between software and applications that need to remain if you switch to the cloud?

Consider both cost and complexity when evaluating cloud options.

5. Think about the risks

Carefully consider the potential risks of cloud computing, as well as the benefits. Will your data be held safely and securely? Is your chosen cloud computing supplier reliable and experienced? With data security a concern for many in the digital age, it's vital that you choose cloud services that are reputable and which demonstrate a commitment to battling against cybercrime and remaining compliant with GDPR.

6. Choose the right partner

Your choice of cloud computing supplier will be key. Don't judge on cost alone. It's far more important that your supplier can manage their services in line with your requirements.

Choose your cloud computing supplier with the same care you would pick any other key supplier. Check what level of service they guarantee, what support is available, how they monitor your service and – crucially – how and where your data is stored and protected.

Take time to review the requirements of the GDPR and ensure any cloud service you choose complies with the regulations.

Carefully check the hours your cloud provider's support team is available; 24/7 chat support at the least will be desirable. Alternatively, you should ensure that providers who don't provide one-to-one support have a sizeable amount of online self-help content available in the form of knowledgebase articles and videos.

7. Decide what service level agreement (SLA) you need

If you'll be relying on cloud computing for crucial parts of your business IT, you need it to be reliable. For instance, if your customer database is in the cloud, losing it even for just an hour or two could cause huge disruption.

An SLA is a commitment to you from the cloud provider. It should guarantee a certain level of availability for the service, and detail how quickly you'll get a response in the event of any problems.

SLAs are contractually binding and give you a performance guarantee you can hold your cloud provider to.

Once you have considered the points above, you should be in a position to say how cloud computing can help your business and how to go about implementing it in a way that eliminates risks, minimises disruption and maximises your return on investment.