Servers & Systems: The Right Compute

5 questions small or midsize businesses should ask when choosing a cloud storage provider

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When searching for a cloud storage provider, SMBs need to make sure they're choosing a partnership that will set them up for success. Here are 5 questions to ask before making that choice.

Exponential storage growth is on the rise. To handle the pressure of managing this storage in a small or midsize office setting, some SMBs are turning to cloud storage providers. What do IT managers need to keep in mind when picking a cloud provider?

For data-driven businesses, partnering with the right cloud storage provider to complement on-premise IT operations can yield a competitive advantage and increased business productivity. Accessible and reliable cloud storage enables businesses to effectively store and extract value from customer, company, and industry information.

The move to the cloud can underpin other critical business functions as well. For example:

  • Secure cloud services can improve data privacy compliance.
  • Updating software is easier on the cloud.
  • Remote or on-the-go employees can access and collaborate over the cloud.
  • The right cloud storage solution can keep businesses up and running through a disaster that would otherwise shut down the office or jeopardize data assets.

While the benefits are clear, choosing a cloud storage provider isn't so simple. IT managers should ask themselves five key questions when deciding which provider is right for their business.

1. What do you want?

Are you searching for a cloud provider to store company data, back up your assets, or enable your workforce with 24/7 access for syncing and sharing complex files? Your answer will determine your choice of provider, plan, and pricing.

Your options include: storing data, information, and assets in a private cloud provided by a single vendor where your business is the sole tenant; relying on a public cloud service where your business co-rents with many others, keeping overall costs low; and going with a hybrid cloud, where a combination of public and private cloud access offers the benefits of flexibility, pricing, and security.

Answering this question may be the most important step in the process. By carefully assessing and articulating your business needs, you'll narrow your list of options down to the best choices for your business.

2. What are your storage volume needs?

The ever-increasing accumulation of information means that businesses of all sizes can generate big data demands. But defaulting to unlimited storage could cost far more than necessary.

If your needs fluctuate by project, season, or time of day, team up with a cloud service that can provide the space you need and the flexibility to shrink or expand based on your usage. Ask about file size restrictions and capacity tiers. You might have a low number of employees now, but if there's a chance you could quickly scale up headcount (e.g., through an acquisition or merger), choose a provider that can accommodate an overnight increase in your user base.

3. What are your compliance requirements?

Strong security is a selling point for cloud storage providers, but regulatory compliance makes data privacy more important in some industries than others. Ask potential cloud providers whether they encrypt data once or twice, and if encryption keys are user-generated, which means that no one—including the cloud company—can see your data. Some cloud providers allow users to select specific security settings for particular files, such as HIPPA compliance for medical records or Sarbanes-Oxley compliance for financial records.

4. Who can access your cloud?

If you want to share documents stored on the cloud with clients, freelancers, or others outside your company, you should know whether the cloud storage provider enables password-protected sharing with expiration dates. If your workforce will collaborate on documents in the cloud, then you should consider what collaboration features the provider offers and whether older versions of files will live on the cloud.

You'll also want to develop and enforce company policies about cloud access. As Security Magazine writes, small organizations' haphazard approach to security, not cloud vulnerabilities, is what leaves them especially vulnerable to data breaches.

5. What operating systems do your employees use?

Some public cloud solutions are better matches for certain operating systems, ZDNet writes. People who use Mac and iOS devices can rely on Apple's iCloud Drive but can also consider Amazon Cloud Drive or Dropbox, which work equally well on PCs, Macs, Android, and iOS. If your team already uses Google Chrome, Gmail, and Google+, then Google Drive is an obvious cloud option. For businesses running on Linux, FOSSMint reviews nine lesser-known public cloud alternatives that work with Linux, including Mega, SpiderOak, pCloud, and TeamDrive.

When you're deciding between cloud providers, make sure you ask these five important questions to properly assess your business needs. An informed decision will lead to selecting a reliable provider and increase productivity, accessibility, and security.

Aberdeen White Paper: Hybrid Cloud small business technology solutions

Ready to take the next step? Check out the SMB Hybrid IT for Dummies Guide. Because there are no "dumb" questions!

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Robert Checketts
Hewlett Packard Enterprise

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About the Author


Robert has over 25+ years of IT Marketing and Product Management leadership experience spanning country, Regional and WW organizations. Robert is a marketing executive with extensive experience in field marketing, channel marketing and product marketing on a global basis and is driven to deliver SMB’s end-to-end affordable infrastructure that’s secure from the start, optimized for every workload, packaged for many consumption models, ready to scale, and easy to manage.