There is a common misconception that all cloud services are the same. This couldnâ€™t be further from the truth, as like any service, there are a good providers and there are bad providers. Before committing themselves to a cloud service provider, businesses need to be sure what theyâ€™re signing up to. Outlined below are some key points to consider. Disaster recovery and data backup Disaster recovery systems are a vital to any cloud service; if the service goes down, businesses lose access to data and hosted applications. Many service providers claim to store data in environments within a certain jurisdiction, such as the UK, however itâ€™s important to find out if and where mirrored sites are located. Data location Data location is an important consideration when considering a cloud services provider, as the secure transfer and encryption of backed-up data should not be taken for granted. however itâ€™s an area thatâ€™s often overlooked. A recent study suggests that an alarmingly small percentage of businesses had not considered where their data is stored. Further still, an even lower number of businesses had no knowledge of where data would be sent to in the event of an outage. Be sure to find out details of of where data is stored prior to signing contracts as to avoid potential issues further down the line. Assessment Many businesses fail to ask the most basic questions when it comes to discussing contracts with potential providers, including asking whether theyâ€™re dealing with a data centre owner or a reseller. While many resellers are highly reputable and reliable, dealing with data centre owners directly allows for more control over data access and more insurance in terms of management and security. Security and physical access Organisations that suffer security breaches can be fined up to Â£500,000 by the Commissionerâ€™s Office (ICO), so naturally, data centre providers are keen to establish high levels of security. Itâ€™s important to establish every facet of a data centre providerâ€™s security before signing a contract. A secure data centre is vital, but should not be at the expense of physical access when required. Customer support When moving to the cloud, itâ€™s important to find a supplier that offers the level of support that ensures any issues are dealt with quickly and efficiently. A good way to gauge the level of support is to look behind the scenes and meet with the team who will be responsible for managing your data. Service level agreements Ensuring a satisfactory service level agreement (SLA) can help avoid many of the potential issues associated with cloud computing. As with any contract, always read the small print and have legal specialists assess the paperwork. Itâ€™s vital that the SLA is understood fully before signing on the dotted line as it sets the standard for the level of service you will receive, from security and monitoring, to operations and support. Costs While seemingly obvious, the issue of cost should not be ignored, especially when it comes to the possibility of â€˜hidden extrasâ€™. Failing to establish costs at the start of an agreement can potentially result in having to find additional funds further down the line. A service providerâ€™s cost model should be transparent and simple, and ensure that actual usage is paid for, rather than available capacities. Reputation While contracts and SLAs provide a clear overview of the service you should receive, thereâ€™s every benefit in conducting additional background checks on potential providers. All providers are not the same, so conducting thorough checks on all of the areas above can help prevent unwanted surprises down the line. The points raised here, though by no means exhaustive, are aimed to provide a starting point for businesses considering taking their IT to the cloud. Migrating to the cloud is not a decision to be taken lightly, but by following the advice given here, businesses can expect a successful and rewarding journey.