Can Business Live without the Cloud? 5 Thoughts to Consider when Evaluating a Cloud or SaaS Provider

While there are many cloud solutions not suitable for enterprise business needs, there are many that are – and adoption is becoming increasingly important.

27 March 2014


Since the advent of Amazon Web Services in 2006, the term ‘cloud computing’ has become increasingly prevalent in modern business parlance.  To some, the term lacks a certain gravitas when applied in the context of mission-critical business challenges. 

It’s noteworthy that many solution providers will shy away from the term ‘cloud’ with some audiences, preferring the more literal software-as-a-service or some variation of the as-a-service label, as befits the nature of their offerings.  We all need to speak the language of our customers, and shying from lingo that invites a visceral reaction makes good sense. Yet, the association of ‘cloud’ with such pejoratives as ‘weak structure,’ consumer-grade security or loss of control is a mistake.  While there are many cloud solutions not suitable for enterprise business needs, there are many that are – and adoption of cloud strategies is becoming an increasingly important part of the mix in corporations of all sizes.

Cost continues to be a major driver of choosing the cloud, as companies consider the investment in people, infrastructure and software needed to provide the same services that hosted solutions deliver. If a key challenge is facilitating secure collaboration among different audiences, an organization would need to evaluate their investment in personnel, policy development/enforcement, IT infrastructure, maintenance and support needed to implement internal solutions.  Many firms remain skeptical about cloud vendors’ ability to deliver the security and high-availability worthy of enterprise-grade solutions.  The cost component suggested earlier is just one aspect of the risk-effort continuum – how much money and effort should be applied to mitigate the risks?  Yet, if looking to a SaaS or cloud solution to fulfill the firm’s requirements, that same firm would need to have a high degree of confidence in the selected vendor’s ability to both reduce the near-term costs and deliver a highly secure, scalable, intuitive solution.

Here are five thoughts to consider in evaluating cloud or SaaS vendors:

  • History – How long has the vendor been delivering cloud or SaaS solutions?
    Are they in startup mode, or an established, experienced solution provider?
  • Customer References – Does their customer base resonate with you? Does the vendor have examples of clients in your industry? Are their clients edge adopters or corporate giants needing a battle-tested solution?  And what will your clients and partners think about the choice of this vendor for mission critical business solutions?
  • Security – How secure is the particular vendor’s solution?  What standards or certifications do they hold?  Does the vendor have a dedicated team addressing security?  Which firms are willing to bet the farm on their solutions?  Do they allow customer audits?  What do industry analysts and domain experts say about the robustness of their offering?
  • Architecture – What do you know about their architecture?  How confident are you in its scalability?  Does the architecture use best-in-class components?  Do you have visibility into how things work – or is it a black box?  And what is their support like – can you reach someone 24x7 in the languages you and your customers speak?
  • Compliance – Do their solutions allow you to achieve, maintain or otherwise address compliance with your own policies, industry best practices, or standards and regulations?  Would this solution put your own compliance requirements at risk – or help you achieve something you can’t do with a home-grown solution?

While the opportunity to save money and time is a promise with which every vendor will tantalize you, it is sometimes not easy to tell whether that cloud has a silver lining, or contains the seeds of a storm.

I have one more piece of advice to share - do your research!  Consider the impact on your customers and the safety of your content and your IP before making the leap. Always insist on talking to happy customers who have the same concerns and scale that you do.