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By Mike Herrington

There is a lot to think about when selecting a cloud solution for your business. Do you go with public or private cloud? Do you opt for a flat-rate fee or a utility-based model for billing? Are there regulations that prevent you from storing data on a public cloud? What are the security concerns involved with cloud solutions? Do you have the resources to manage those cloud solutions to your benefit?

Cloud computing is a huge buzzword in the industry and there are a plethora of options out there. Private cloud typically means that you build it yourself in your own data center and make it accessible to the outside world. It’s typically more expensive but you maintain complete control of the environment and thereby the integrity of your data. This is often a good choice for highly regulated or security-conscious organizations.

Public cloud is another option. Examples of public cloud are businesses like Amazon, Rackspace and Microsoft’s Azure. They offer business benefits such as speed, agility, scalability, security and more. Billing for these solutions is typically done on a utility basis, which can be attractive based on your workload and specific needs.

The questions of which is a fit for your business lies in a discussion of the specific workload that you want to put on the cloud. If you’re an engineering firm that has a workload of 3D-accelerated designs and a database-driven ERP system, keeping things in-house probably makes the most sense. That kind of workload can only be moved to the cloud with significant investment and great cost — so much cost that it typically outweighs the business benefit.

On the other hand, if you’re a software development company that has a need for servers that can be spun up and spun down for product testing as projects and needs dictate, a public cloud solution might be a great fit for your needs.

Start with the workload, determine the need and then select the cloud that works best for your business.

Another consideration is flat-fee or utility-based billing. This is an important differentiator for businesses looking to keep their expenses in line. Flat-rate billing is straightforward: You contract with a cloud provider for a server that has a certain amount of memory, disk space and CPU for a flat monthly fee.

Utility billing can sometimes be confusing. The concept is that it tracks how much power, bandwidth, CPU, memory and hard disk space that you’re using and bills you on a per-unit basis for what you use. That can be a great fit and potentially save costs if you carefully manage your usage and make sure to turn it off when you’re not using it. It can also mean variable costs depending on the workload, which isn’t the best idea for all organizations. It is frequently a great fit for e-commerce and software development.

Regulation and the sensitivity of your data is another important factor to consider when looking at a move to the cloud. Do you have financial data for your clients? If so, is your cloud solution secure and compliant with things like PCI and SOX? Do you have other regulated information such as personal health information? There are cloud providers that have these security certifications, but you must take a careful look at your data and select a provider that’s committed to keeping it safe.

Another important thing to remember is that, even though you may have sensitive data securely stored on a compliant cloud provider, it doesn’t get you off the hook for maintaining the security of your own network. You can still be held liable for copies of sensitive data that are stored locally and you should continue to take the appropriate security measures to protect yourself.

Outside of compliance are there other security measures that need to be addressed? Is two-factor authentication important to your business? If so, can that be achieved through the cloud solution you’re looking at? There are many cloud providers that offer higher levels of security, dual-factor authentication and will assist with your compliance needs. Make sure you choose the one that’s the right fit for your business needs.

One of the last questions to ask is whether you have the right resources on your team to manage this cloud solution. An ill-managed cloud solution can be extremely wasteful, especially with a utility-based model for cloud computing. It’s basically like leaving the water running all night and day. You need to have a team member that is looking over the usage and expenditures and helping to develop a strategic plan for your cloud solution that will allow you get the best bang for your buck. Without that strategy and proper management, the cloud can become a sore spot for business owners.

If your team doesn’t have a cloud expert on staff, it’s recommended that you reach out to a consultant to help you get started and build the necessary strategy. If you carefully consider these items and work to build a plan, the move to the cloud can be a great cost-effective strategy to meet your computing needs. A quick jump without the necessary planning could end up in disaster. Take the time and plan it out so the move is a great one for your business.

Mike Herrington is the manager of business development at i.t.NOW.