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How to make your move to the cloud a breeze

A 2015 study of cloud migration by the Cloud Industry Forum found that UK cloud penetration stood at 84%. Since the forum's earlier study in 2010, the adoption of cloud platforms has risen by three-quarters and it shows no sign of stopping.

With technology lowering the barriers to entry in almost all industry sectors, businesses are looking for ways to make their operations more streamlined, lower their overheads and get the upper hand over their competition. Moving in-house technologies and company operations to the cloud can be a great way of successfully reaching these goals.

However, the move is not without its pitfalls sometimes. Some businesses migrate to the cloud too quickly; without checking their options and looking at the benefits and risks of making the move. Without preliminary research on which cloud software supplier to use, companies can find themselves rife with problems further down the line.

How small business can successfully leverage the cloud

With a huge amount of flexibility in the types of processes and services on offer for moving to the cloud, it's key to understand what exactly is available to you and what is going to work best for your business.

Software as a Service (SaaS) applications, such as Office 365, are third-party software tools that can be accessed through the web. The software and the data your company stores with them is kept on the vendor's cloud. Employees access everything through a web interface, and these types of systems do not need maintenance or downloads from teams. The downsides of these applications are that there is no flexibility to customise or control things on the user's side and that SaaS providers may not take responsibility for securing your data in the cloud.

The Platform as a Service (PaaS) model, such as Microsoft Azure, gives a company more control and responsibility for its processes and applications. A PaaS provider will supply you with platforms, such as an operating system, programming environment, and database. From there, your business can create its own personalised applications, and your IT team can leave the majority of storage and networking management to the vendor.

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) models, for example, Rackspace and HPCloud, are the most customisable cloud computing tool. These models have complete control over a server in the cloud, but your team will be responsible for the data, operating system, applications, and middleware. The IaaS provider will handle servers, hard drives, and networking. An IaaS environment will be like managing your own data centre without having to purchase or keep physical hardware maintained, and you'll need a robust IT team to handle this.

Top tips to a smooth and easy cloud migration

Once you've chosen a cloud service model, you'll need to work out who you want to partner with and there are several questions you need to ask. 

1. Does your chosen provider have a Disaster Recovery (DR) Plan?

In 2014, a US-based cloud server called Code Spaces was hacked and all the customers' data was deleted. The company posted a message to let users know there was no way to recover the data and that the company was going out of business. The data was lost forever.

A great DR plan will be more than just a good backup system, it will also include restoring applications, data, access to your server and more. Make sure to check your provider has a plan in place that keeps your data safe.

2. Does your potential cloud supplier live up to acceptable standards for compliance and security?

Your company's cloud infrastructure is just an extension of your onsite data and computing services. With data breaches and cyber attacks on the rise in almost all industries, it's critical to do in-depth research into potential cloud tools before relying on them.

You’ll need to uncover whether cloud providers have the certifications necessary to ensure your data is protected. For example, you might need to know if the supplier is PCI-DSS compliant, which means that it has demonstrated sufficient data encryption and security processes for the payment card industry. Or, if your company is in a regulated industry or handles Personally Identifiable Information for clients, you'll want to be sure that any cloud vendor you choose is complying with legislation such as the Data Protection Act.

Make a list of all the certifications you will need from your supplier and check they tick all the boxes.

3. How long have they been in business and what is their financial position?

The Internet has made it easier than ever for small companies to establish themselves as a business, and that includes cloud software suppliers.

While it may not hold true that new cloud storage businesses are not viable candidates for your business, a company that has been established for longer may give you the peace of mind you need. Similarly, the more financially secure and well-funded a cloud business is, the less potentially likely it will be that they might have to shut down and leave you in a sticky situation.

4. How much responsibility will they take for the security of your data?

According to cloud-security company, Skyhigh Networks, fewer than 1 in 10 cloud software businesses encrypted their customers' data as standard practice. Many vendors also state that they take no responsibility for their user's data.

It's key that you understand what liability you and your potential supplier assume for your data security. Without a properly managed and secured cloud service, many companies will always be under threat of data leaks and security breaches.

Similarly, you need to know what encryption protocols they use for transmitting data. You should expect nothing less than the most advanced and robust encryption data in use today: Transport Layer Security or TLS. Secure Socket Layer is now considered more vulnerable to attack but is still a better choice than those vendors who do not have any protocols in place.

5. Exactly how much protection does your data have?

A cloud software provider should take a dynamic view of attacks and be constantly evolving to stop your data from being accessed by intruders.

But they also need to go a step further; ensuring that the environment your data resides in is not already compromised. Malicious files in your systems could lay dormant for a long time before being activated. Your chosen supplier needs to know how to scan and address these threats. Tools known as "defence in depth" apps should be part of their protection kit, so make sure you check this is the case before purchasing from them.

Truly reliable and secure cloud software companies will also have a host of physical security measures in place for storing your business data. You want to look for real-world protection such as security guards at a data centre, high-quality authentication measures (such as fingerprint or retinal scanning) and a facility that is under 24-hour video surveillance.

6. Do they provide a good level of technical support and keep good records?

Genuine expert cloud software providers will be staffed 24/7 with very well-trained expert support professionals. When you experience an issue or a data meltdown, you want to be able to contact them and know that they'll be ready to help so that your ongoing business operations aren't affected.

For record and regulatory purposes, you'll also want your supplier to track all activity in your accounts, and be able to access this information at any time. Cloud software, wherever possible, should include an administrator portal that enables you and your company employees to access full audits and generate reports.

At Xenace, we partner with Acronis for our cloud services. As a leader in world-class data protection, its cloud solutions are designed to fit any business environment—from a single workstation to an entire enterprise infrastructure. They offer a wide range of technological advantages including ultra-fast disaster recovery, seamless and safe cloud backup, Universal Restore technology, multi-destination support, 1-step system deployment tools, smart disk management utilities, software designed for exceptional ease of use, and centralised management.

Speak to us about how your business can benefit from cloud software solutions.

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