By Todd Smithee

Cloud computing is one of today’s hottest IT topics. The benefits of cloud computing are tremendous and include access to Fortune 500 technology regardless of your company’s size; minimal IT infrastructure and personnel requirements; and the ability to focus on core business processes instead of back-office operations. That said, choosing the correct cloud computing vendor is critical. A bad choice could result in your organization being held hostage by your cloud computing supplier. There are some steps you can take, however, to greatly reduce your chances of entering a bad client-vendor relationship.

  1. Document Your Needs “ This step is critical. Before you can even begin to review vendors, you must document your requirements in detail. This can be a miserable, time-consuming process, but it will be well worth the investment. You will undoubtedly find out interesting things about your organization. These could be processes that are manually (or poorly) managed. Without this documentation, however, you will have no way to evaluate potential vendors. Your risk of signing a costly, long-term contract with a vendor unable to meet your needs increases exponentially.
  2. Select a Short List“ Once you have your requirements document completed, you can research potential vendors. Any cloud computing vendor worth its salt will have an extensive Internet presence. Use Google, blogs, and other online resources to identify four to five potential solutions. While you have to be careful about information sources, online research is definitely the place to start.
  3. Contact the Short-List Vendors “ This first contact will give you some idea of a vendor’s ability to meet your needs. Be careful, however, not to judge a provider based solely on your impression of the sales representative alone. There are some excellent vendors that occasionally have a sub-par sales team member. The old axiom of “don’t judge a book by its cover” definitely applies here. Note: You will want to immediately ask the vendor how many clients it has.
  4. The Demonstration “ After providing your vendor with your requirements document (RFP), the vendor will provide you with a demonstration. Be sure that your vendor includes all of the major points you identified in your requirements document. This is critical. You absolutely must proceed with a “trust but verify” mentality. If a vendor cannot demonstrate a feature you need or at least provide multiple references where your required feature has been implemented, eliminate that vendor. If you hear a vendor say “that will come out with our next release,” run like the wind!
  5. Check References “ While this is standard operating procedure with any major investment, you will want to be extra careful when checking references of a cloud computing vendor. Make sure you confirm all of the promises made by the sales representative. Areas of focus should include downtime/reliability, quality of customer service, availability of consulting and implementation partners and services, and frequency of upgrades.

One final step remains after a vendor checks out on the above check points “ financial viability. There are several ways this can be accomplished. First, should a vendor’s client list include Fortune 500 corporations, publicly traded companies, and financial institutions, you can feel fairly certain that the vendor has been vetted by someone with much greater resources than you likely have. If the vendor is publicly traded, review its shareholder reports and SEC filings. If the vendor is private, insist on talking with the CFO or some other person with a fiduciary responsibility. If a company is not profitable, be very careful when considering it as a vendor (remember the term dotcom?).

Cloud computing is a great equalizer among businesses. It can provide you with infrastructure similar to the “big boys” without major capital investment. Following the steps outlined above can help you select the correct vendor and minimize the risks associated with this great new model of acquiring IT infrastructure.

Todd Smithee