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Part Three: Moving to the Cloud

Choosing the right cloud provider Add to ...

When it comes to choosing a cloud computing provider, small and medium-sized businesses may often find themselves looking at dozens – if not hundreds – of potential options. With almost every major tech company out there jumping into the industry, the sheer number of cloud solutions can make life difficult for a small firm that’s just wading into the new computing frontier.

Besides price, there are a number of variables to consider when deciding on a cloud services provider. For some companies – especially firms that deal with sensitive data – the physical location of the cloud servers on which data is to be stored is very important. While some cloud providers don’t have their own Canadian data servers, many have deals with server companies in the country.

Security-conscious customers may also want to check the certification of their potential cloud provider’s infrastructure. Some organizations, such as the Cloud Security Alliance, offer security certification, and a host of cloud companies have recently applied for and received such certification.

Along with security, cloud companies have also moved to improve the reliability of their services. Many major providers now offer so-called uptime guarantees. Essentially, the companies assure their customers that the cloud service will remain running at least a certain percentage of the time. For large providers, that number hovers around at least 99 per cent uptime.

There are a number of major cloud providers that offer comprehensive solutions for small and medium-sized businesses – essentially, services for companies that want to migrate fully to the cloud, rather than purchase one or two cloud-based services. Google, for example, offers its popular Docs, Calendar and other services to businesses as a cheaper solution than buying software from a retailer. The company has largely tried to leverage its size and scope to sell customers on its cloud services – providing each employee 25 gigabytes of Gmail space, for example.

Amazon, the massive Web store, has also moved into the cloud business. The company has leveraged its huge server capacity to offer businesses a traditional cloud computing solution. In effect, the company rents out server space on a pay-as-you-go basis. Customers can rent out computing power, space or bandwidth, and can easily scale the amount they need as they go along. Unlike its competitors, however, Amazon offers few bells and whistles. There are no Amazon-branded business software tools such as Google Docs. Instead, the company focuses on renting out server space and computing power with no frills. The result has proven successful, as many small business owners – especially tech startups that can’t afford to buy servers – have migrated to Amazon’s service.

A number of traditional software and hardware firms have also recently stepped into the cloud services market. Microsoft is betting big on the cloud, most notably with the launch of Windows Azure this year, a cloud-based network of software and hardware that allows the company to offer a number of services, including storage space and virtual networks.

IBM, Cisco and a host of other tech firms have also expanded their cloud offerings.

While companies such as Amazon have leveraged their massive hardware infrastructure to sell businesses on the cloud, other firms have focused on software. Perhaps the best-known example is SalesForce.com, which specializes in sales software. The company’s applications, which are hosted on the cloud, are designed to help businesses manage their relationships with their customers. In recent years, the company has expanded its offerings to mobile devices, and introduced new apps, such as real-time collaboration tools.

While SalesForce is perhaps the broadest example, there are no shortage of companies that have staked out niche industries to target their products to. Toronto-based Nulogy, for example, offers cloud-based solutions primarily to consumer goods companies and packagers, offering software tools designed to simplify tasks such as supply chain management. Rypple, another Web-based software company, specializes in tools that let employees and employers exchange feedback, collaborate and set up meetings. Pollstream allows companies to decipher and analyze their customers’ and employees’ interests. For almost every major corporate task, it seems, there’s a cloud company offering to let businesses do it without buying new hardware or software.

Indeed, the number of cloud companies has expanded so quickly that it appears there’s now one for every conceivable taste. Case in point: GreenQloud. The Iceland-based startup has found a simple way to differentiate itself from the competition. Powered entirely by renewable energy, the company claims to be the world’s only truly green cloud.

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