Moving to the Cloud means different things to different organizations. Similarly, offering a cloud solution means different things to different vendors. At this point, you probably have some portion of your business running ‘in the Cloud.' The most common place we see organizations adopting the Cloud is with Software as a Service (SaaS), which includes Microsoft Office 365, Salesforce.com, and any number of line-of-business applications hosted by a provider in the Cloud.
As you consider new cloud and SaaS options, it’s important to remember that moving to the Cloud may not necessarily be the hassle-free experience you've dreamed of. There may be outages, you may lose data (yes, even Google can lose your data), and you may only receive slow email-based support when things go wrong. It’s up to you to understand what you are signing up for when evaluating cloud and SaaS vendors. Here are a few things to keep in mind whenever you consider cloud or SaaS options.
Cloud Vendor Maturity
The easy part of picking a SaaS or cloud option is understanding the features and functions offered by the solutions you are considering. However, you really need to understand the company behind the application. Ask these questions:
- Is it a start up?
- How many employees do they have?
- Do they follow a controlled software development process?
- How do they evaluate and qualify their vendors?
- Do they use private or public cloud infrastructure?
- How big is their software development team?
It’s not uncommon to find immature or non-existent software development and upgrade processes with smaller SaaS providers, which can result in buggy code and more downtime for maintenance. Working with these smaller vendors can be exciting because they can quickly deploy new features you have requested; however it can ultimately be the riskier option due to change management without proper testing and documentation. The goal is to develop the understanding that your vendors are operationally mature enough to provide the service you are expecting from them.
100% Uptime Guarantee
The other day, I was looking at a cloud vendor who offered a 100% uptime guarantee. Great! Their service will never go down, right? Of course not. On closer look, here is what they were offering:
- Hardware – 100% uptime excluding scheduled maintenance
- Power and cooling systems – 100% uptime excluding scheduled maintenance
- Network– 100% uptime excluding scheduled maintenance
What this tells me is that I need to get a solid understanding of what their scheduled maintenance plan looks like and how much it will impact my ability to use the cloud offering. Most vendors offer Service Level Agreements of 99.9% or more uptime, which amounts to a target of just under nine hours of unscheduled downtime per year or less. It’s up to you to understand all of the 'other' downtime they see during the year because it’s not zero and no one advertises that.
At the end of the day, your users don’t care about the scheduled maintenance/downtime/uptime/SLA promises that are made; all they care about is can I use the software when I need to? You’ll want to evaluate this prior to selecting a cloud vendor. Be sure to ask potential vendors the following:
- How do they calculate uptime and downtime?
- How much downtime did they experience due to scheduled maintenance or other planned outages during the last week/month/year?
- What day(s) of the week and time of day is maintenance typically performed?
- Do they notify customers of an upcoming scheduled outage and how much advance notice will you get?
- How do they monitor the service for outages?
- What are the uptime guarantees of their vendors?
And finally, always ask for references. Experienced users are most helpful in understanding how inconvenient and frequent downtime is. Four hours of downtime last month is usually easier to deal with if it was one Saturday morning from 1:00 AM – 5:00 AM as opposed to every Monday morning from 8:00 AM – 9:00 AM.
It’s easy to assume that because your data is in the cloud, someone is making sure it is backed up and easily recovered if things go awry. You may be surprised by the answer. Even Salesforce.com, one of the leading cloud providers, recommends you make your own back-up of your Salesforce data. You may be happy with the backup and recovery procedure offered by your SaaS and cloud providers, however don’t assume they have you covered. You absolutely must consider backing up your cloud data and supplementing vendor backups with your own as appropriate to meet your RPOs and RTOs.
Customer Service and Support
When evaluating cloud options, vendor support can be very responsive and efficient, however this may not be the same support you receive once you sign up. What happens once you become a customer? Calling your sales representative and asking questions is not likely how you’ll get support. Are there forums? Perhaps a knowledgebase you’ll have access to? Live online chat support? A number to call?
There are likely going to be several options, but try them out during the sales process. Many companies are pushing customers into their forums first for support. If you’re considering one of those companies, look through their forums to see if they have an active community providing good information.
At the end of the day, it's important to find the solution that fits your business environment seamlessly, support that provides you with the answers you need for ongoing inquiries.
Email email@example.com, or contact your Account Manager for more information.