Moving to the cloud?
When it comes to picking a cloud provider for accounting and other applications, you should ask some tough questions, according to industry expert Clay Hart.

The CEO of private cloud hosting provider Diverse Technology Solutions, Hart laid out a dozen questions you should bring to any cloud provider you might be working with.

(A text-only version of this story is available here.)
1. Where will my data be located? 
“Everyone’s a cloud provider these days, and you don’t want your data in someone’s garage,” Hart said. Ideally, your information will be stored in a safe part of the country that’s remote from your own location, so it’s not subject to the same regional risks.
2. What can go wrong during installation or migration? 
This could range from problems with Internet connection on up to data loss or incompatibility, so you want to discover the problems that previous users have faced.
3. Are you a reseller of cloud services, or do you own the equipment you provide the cloud services on? 
“This is one of the most important questions,” Hart said. “Are they hosting on their own equipment, or on Amazon?” If it’s someone else’s infrastructure, you may not have clarity on who is responsible for service and support.
4. Are you sharing hardware resources between clients? 
You want to know whether your processing is being dedicated just to you, or if it’s being shared out among all the provider’s customers.
5. What are the specs of the data center you operate out of? 
This would include physical and electronic security measures, redundancies, and so on. “It might even be worth visiting,” Hart said -- just to make sure it’s not someone’s garage.
6. Do you have insurance in the case of an outage or data loss? 
Hart estimated that 95 percent of cloud providers do not have insurance against your data being destroyed or unavailable. “The reality is that a very good cloud provider will have insurance,” he said.
7. How much Internet bandwidth is needed for the solution to perform correctly? 
This is one of the most crucial questions to ask -- and you want to make sure that you know the figure per user. You’ll also want to check with your Internet service provider to know what both you upload speed and your download speed are.
8. Is my data automatically redundant across multiple data centers? 
This will give you a strong idea of their backup and security procedures.
9. What is the recovery time if the systems hosting my data are completely destroyed? 
And don’t forget to ask what kind of secondary backups they have, how often they’re made, and how often they’re tested.
10. Do you have documented data security policies? 
“Every cloud provider has employees,” Hart said. “One of the fears is, ‘Doesn’t someone else have access to my data?’ Knowing that what kind of formal security policies they have in place will give you an idea of how secure your data is from the provider’s own staff.
11. What is the average total downtime for the services I’m subscribing to? 
They should be able to tell you have often during a particular period of time -- annually, over three years, over five years, etc. -- their services are unavailable. It should be be a relatively low percentage.
12. Do you outsource your helpdesk? 
“Is it offshore? Outsourced?” Hart asked. “Will it give you the support you need on the schedule you need?”

 Hart also noted a number of items you want to make sure are included in the provider’s service level agreement, including a clause clearly stating who owns the data (you), a confidentiality clause, clear identification of where primary and back up data will be located; an insurance clause; guarantees of uptime; and a “change of business” clause covering what happens if the provider is acquired by another company.