How to Choose the Right Cloud for Your Business in 5 Steps

Like any technology solution, selecting the ideal cloud service isn’t just another box to tick, but a long-term strategic imperative that directly impacts your small or medium-sized business (SMB) and its continuing growth and efficiency. 

Every SMB faces unique challenges in cloud computing, as your choice must align closely with your specific operational needs and goals. Without proper evaluation, the impact of a misaligned cloud strategy for a SMB can be costly, leading to wasted resources and missed opportunities.

Recognizing this, it is crucial for your decision-makers to stay informed of the latest best practices, considerations and solutions surrounding cloud computing – and potentially seek help from managed service providers (MSP) if your IT resources aren’t enough to guide your path.

This blog will assist your SMB in getting started with cloud, and cover the most important 5 steps to take when embarking on your solution search for the right cloud for your business.

Step #1: Assess your business requirements

When choosing a cloud solution for your small or medium-sized business (SMB), it’s essential to first thoroughly assess your specific business needs with your leadership team. This assessment forms the cornerstone of your cloud strategy, ensuring that the service you choose optimally supports your business operations and growth. Here are the key factors to consider:

Data and application requirements

Type of data:

Identify the nature of the data your business handles. Is it primarily large media files, sensitive customer information, transactional data, or a combination of various types?

Type of application:

Determine what type of application you will be running in the cloud. How many resources will it require? Are there integrations with the platform you can leverage? How many people will be managing the solution?

Storage needs:

Estimate the volume of data you expect to store. This will help you determine the storage capacity requirements and understand the cloud cost implications.

Security and management tools:

Different cloud services offer varied levels of cloud security features and data management tools. It’s crucial to select a service that provides adequate protection and management capabilities for your SMB’s specific type of data.

Scalability

Business growth:

Choose a cloud provider that can scale up services as your small business grows and demand increases. This built-in flexibility helps you avoid unnecessary costs or limitations that can hinder your operations as time progresses.

Adjustable services:

Similarly, ensure that the cloud solution you select can effectively scale down during slower periods without significant penalties or difficulties, preserving efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

Compliance and security

Regulatory compliance:

Confirm that the cloud provider complies with relevant industry-specific regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) for businesses operating in or dealing with the European market, or California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) for U.S. businesses operating in California. There are also industry-specific compliance needs to consider, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) for those handling healthcare information in the U.S.

Security measures:

Review the cybersecurity measures the cloud provider has in place to meet industry standards and modern data privacy regulations (security from the platform itself, not just the security management tools they provide your SMB to use). Look for features like encryption, firewalls, anti-virus detection, and multi-factor authentication. All of this protects your data from unauthorized access and breaches.

By carefully evaluating these aspects of your business requirements, you can better prepare to choose a cloud service that not only fits your immediate needs, but also supports your business’s intended future development and success. This strategic approach helps ensure that your cloud solution is a valuable asset from the start, rather than a costly and potential liability.

Step #2 - Understand the types of cloud platforms and services

Choosing the right type of cloud environment is crucial for small or medium-sized businesses especially, as it directly impacts your operations, security, and budget which may already be limited. Understanding the distinctions between public, private, and hybrid cloud models before-hand will ultimately help you make an informed decision that best meets your needs.

Public cloud: The most recognized model where services and infrastructure are provided off-site over the internet and shared across multiple organizations. This model is highly favored by SMBs primarily for its cost-effectiveness and scalability, as it eliminates the need for your business to purchase, manage, and maintain on-premises hardware and software. Major providers like Amazon AWS, Google Cloud, and Microsoft Azure offer extensive resources that you can scale up or down based on your needs, ensuring you pay only for what you use. However, since resources in the public cloud are shared among multiple users, there may be concerns about data security and privacy that you will need to address before selection.

Private cloud: A private cloud offers a dedicated environment reserved exclusively for your business. This model is hosted either on-site or through a third-party service provider. One draw of the private cloud is the enhanced control and security it offers, particularly for specific industries with stricter data privacy and compliance requirements, such as finance and healthcare. By not sharing resources with other organizations, you can configure the environment to meet your specific security standards and compliance requirements, making it ideal for businesses that handle sensitive data or operate under stringent regulatory controls. However, the private cloud comes with higher costs, as it requires significant investment in infrastructure and expertise to manage and maintain the environment. It is most suitable for SMBs that need strict data control and have the budget to support the associated expenses.

Hybrid cloud: The hybrid cloud model combines the best features of both public and private clouds, providing a flexible and balanced approach. This model allows your business to manage sensitive operations or data on a private cloud, while still leveraging the cost-effectiveness and scalability of public cloud services for less critical operations. For instance, you could use a private cloud for secure data storage and a public cloud for high-volume, low-risk processes. The hybrid approach offers versatility in managing various business processes, allowing for cost efficiency while maintaining stringent security where needed, and also provides the ability to dynamically move between clouds as your business needs change, offering a strategic advantage in operational flexibility. The drawback is your SMB will require IT expertise to manage both public and private cloud environments, which may add additional complexity.

Each of these three types of cloud platforms provide multiple services, software tools, management interfaces and security measures that differ in delivery mechanism, scalability and comprehensiveness, which also requires additional research to find the best fit for your SMB.

In summary, choosing between public, private, and hybrid cloud models depends largely on your specific business needs, security requirements, and budget constraints. Take the time to map out your objectives with these cloud types to ensure your cloud platform adoption is backed by thorough research.

Step #3 - Evaluate cloud providers extensively

Selecting a cloud platform is a long-term decision that demands the right amount of time to research each provider’s services and offerings. Here are some key aspects to consider:

Reputation and reliability:

Look for providers with a strong reputation, reflected by positive customer reviews and testimonials. Check their track record for handling service outages and their uptime statistics, which are often made available publicly. Industry awards and assessments can also provide insights into a provider’s reliability and performance.

Technical support:

For SMBs with limited IT resources, robust technical support from the cloud provider is advantageous. Ensure the provider offers 24/7 support to address any issues promptly and minimize downtime. The quality of customer service is crucial—providers should be responsive, knowledgeable, and efficient in resolving problems. Consider the availability of support in your time zone and language, which can be particularly beneficial. Another recommended option on top of support from the cloud provider is to seek the assistance of a managed service provider (MSP) experienced in cloud platforms.

Cost structure:

Fully understanding the pricing model of cloud services is vital to avoid unexpected costs. Look for transparent pricing with no hidden fees. Costs typically include setup fees, storage fees, and charges for additional services like data transfers. Many providers offer tiered pricing models; assess these against your business needs and growth potential.

In summary, selecting the right cloud provider involves assessing their reputation, support capabilities, and cost structure. For SMBs, the ideal provider offers a balance of cost-effectiveness, reliability, and strong customer support, bolstered by help from a MSP.

Step #4 - Consider technical aspects and integration viability

When selecting a cloud provider for your SMB, take the time to assess the technical aspects that will determine how well the service aligns with your existing operations and future growth, whether with your internal IT department or with the help of outsourced experts from MSPs:

Integration capabilities:

The ability of a cloud service to seamlessly integrate with your existing IT infrastructure is vital. Effective integration ensures that your business processes remain smooth, and that you can leverage the full potential of cloud computing without disrupting existing workflows. Evaluate whether the cloud provider supports standard Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and has compatibility with the software and systems you currently use. It’s also beneficial if the provider has a proven track record of integrating with businesses similar to yours, as this can significantly reduce the risk and complexity involved in the transition. Of course, this step necessitates the help of an IT expert, so if you don’t have IT resources to guide a cloud migration assessment, IT managed services are the best option.

Management tools:

User-friendly cloud management tools are essential for efficiently overseeing your cloud resources. These tools should provide comprehensive control over your cloud environment, including the ability to monitor resource usage, track performance, and manage security settings. Look for platforms that offer dashboards with real-time analytics and reporting capabilities, which can help you make informed decisions and quickly address any issues. The ideal management tools are intuitive, reducing the learning curve and allowing your team to manage cloud resources without needing deep technical expertise.

Data migration support:

Migrating your existing data to a new cloud environment can be one of the biggest challenges during the transition. Choosing a provider that offers robust data migration support can alleviate much of this burden. Some providers offer specialized tools and services that simplify the process of moving data securely and efficiently, minimizing downtime and potential data loss. These services might include direct transfer tools and data syncing capabilities to ensure the migration goes smoothly.

Considering these technical aspects ahead of time ensures that the cloud service you choose not only fits your current needs, but is also capable of supporting your business as it evolves.

Step #5 - Review contract terms and SLAs

Service Level Agreements (SLAs) are documents that define the level of service you can expect and protect your interests should the provider fail to meet these expectations. For SMBs, reviewing these terms are essential to align your cloud platform with your objectives.

Availability guarantees:

Uptime is a critical component of cloud services, as it impacts your business operations directly. Most cloud providers will offer an uptime guarantee, typically expressed as a percentage (e.g., 99.9%). It’s important to understand what these guarantees mean and under what circumstances they apply, and the compensation or remediation process if the provider fails to meet their guaranteed service levels. This could range from credit on your account to other compensatory measures.

Data sovereignty:

Data sovereignty concerns the laws and regulations that apply to data based on where it is physically stored. When your data is stored in a cloud, it might reside in a different country or jurisdiction, subjecting it to that locality’s laws, which can affect privacy, accessibility, and security. Make sure that the cloud provider’s storage locations comply with your country’s regulations and any specific industry requirements relevant to your business, such as GDPR for European customers or HIPAA for health-related information in the U.S. This will help avoid legal complications and strengthen your data management practices.

How to choose the right cloud for your business: What’s next?

It’s clear that for any business (both SMB and enterprise) that there are several factors to consider before selecting the right cloud computing platform for your business objectives.

By reading our guide, you’ve taken the first important steps to understanding the scope of criteria that must be assessed ahead of time to ensure you get the best alignment and value out of whatever cloud provider your SMB chooses to adopt.

If your current IT resources are lacking, we recommend partnering with a cloud certified MSP like SparkNav to help guide your assessment and integration of cloud into your business. Speak to a member of our team today to learn how SparkNav can help kickstart your cloud initiatives.

Robert Griffin
Robert Griffin
As COO, Robert Griffin plays an instrumental role in aligning operational excellence with strategic goals by leveraging his decades of experience in enterprise leadership. With deep knowledge and expertise in security, governance, risk, and compliance (GRC), and AI, his insights are often shared through thought leadership channels, including LinkedIn and blogs. → Follow Robert on LinkedIn.
Explore
Drag