Is your small business in the cloud or is it heading in that direction?  Many small businesses are moving some or all of their operations to the cloud in order to enable remote and mobile workers to access company information and services from anywhere and to save on IT and infrastructure costs. By 2020, 78 percent of U.S. small businesses will have fully adopted cloud computing compared to the 37 percent already “in the cloud,” according to a 2014 report from Intuit and Emergent Research.

When it’s time to move your small business to the cloud, make sure to do the appropriate planning to get the results you want. For starters, you’ll want to decide what applications and services you need to support your team in and out of the office. You can choose from such popular applications as online storage and sharing, email, online meeting and conferencing, and document collaboration and note-taking.  You also can boost operations with payroll and invoicing applications. When it comes to deployment, you may want to move your applications and services to the cloud over time, starting with the ones that are most critical and adding more as your operational and customer requirements change.

You’ll also need to make a decision about what type of cloud platform is most suitable for your needs: public, private or hybrid.

  • Public cloud: Services are provided remotely in a multi-tenant environment. You share hardware, storage and network resources with other companies. The benefits of the public cloud are reduced complexity and lead time to deployment.
  • Private cloud: Private cloud also is remotely located but you use services and network resources entirely devoted to your business. The private cloud gives you more options for customization.
  • Hybrid cloud: A combination of both public and private solutions. Your small business may use the public cloud for email management and the private cloud for data storage.

Once you’ve done sufficient planning and determined what applications and services you need to move to the cloud and the type of platform that best suits your needs, there still are other considerations or mistakes to avoid that could cost your business or damage your clients. Some things to factor into your decision-making include:

Performance: Your cloud computing needs will undoubtedly grow over time as your business grows. As an example, you will have more employees using the system or there may be peak demand times during the day. Another performance issue has to do with scalability of your applications to support additional business.  Bottom line, you need to constantly monitor the performance of your cloud computing services to make sure they are keeping up with your needs.

Security: Securing your small business data isn’t only important to make sure your small business remains operational; there is some client data that you are required to protect by law. As you evaluate cloud computing providers, find out what precautions, such as encryption and firewalls, they have to protect data from security breaches and what measures they take for their own onsite security and protection against natural disasters. Ask how soon you can expect to be notified if there is a data breach.

Adhere to privacy laws:  Also on the topic of client data, Peter Chen points out in “5 Major Cloud Computing Mistakes to Avoid,” depending on the industry you are in, your small business may even have limitations on the type of data you can store in the cloud, what individuals can access the information and even the type of cloud model you use. Fines for failing to comply with these privacy laws can be costly.

Service Level Agreements:  Know yours. Service Level Agreements (SLAs) outline the services provided by the cloud computing vendor you choose.  They also cover issues related to network availability, compensation in the event of an outage (Will you get money back?), performance monitoring, scheduled maintenance, how security breaches are handled, how to report problems and how quickly you can expect a response. Don’t overlook anything that can interfere with your business operations.

There are many advantages to cloud computing.  Do your homework; ask the right questions and plan ahead to make your small business move to the cloud a breeze.