U.K. businesses that adopt cloud computing risk their data getting stuck in the cloud, and experts say businesses need to take steps to ensure they can easily move information once it's migrated to the cloud.
As the cloud market matures, it is essential to have the flexibility to change providers for better prices or service levels. It is also critical to be able to move data back internally for staging purposes, for example. As most businesses are still deciding for or against the cloud model, they may overlook the need to check providers' migration policies before signing on the dotted line.
Customers need to examine contracts to understand how they get their data at end of contract.
Dominic Monkhouse, U.K. managing director of Southampton-based hosting company Peer 1, encouraged businesses to get it in writing. "If data migration is a key issue for you, it is a good idea to get something written into your contract or SLA [service-level agreement]. Hosting is an ungoverned industry, so some providers get away with promising a lot but delivering very little.
"The important thing is covering your bases so they have to provide a good service. For example, moving your data securely and easily without anything getting lost or falling into the wrong hands," Monkhouse said.
IDC analyst Chris Ingle agreed, stressing the importance of understanding the terms of your contact. "I think we have to distinguish between SaaS [Software as a Service] offerings such as Salesforce and Google Apps, and platform or application clouds such as Amazon or Microsoft Azure. I know of some companies [using SaaS] who are facing issues with contract end and retrieving data.
"Customers need to examine contracts to understand how they get their data at end of contract," said Ingle. "The other issue here is that companies are using consumer solutions for business purposes, and these applications might have inappropriate licensing for businesses."
Peer 1's Monkhouse advised businesses to make sure they have a get-out clause written into their cloud contract. "If possible, opt for a month-by-month contract. This way, if you are unhappy, you can get out easily and quickly. Don't be too tempted by any 'special deals' offered for long-term contract."
He recommended that before signing up, businesses ask the prospective provider if it paid out any service-level credit in the last quarter and what it was paid out for.
"If it's a hosting provider you're looking at, downloading a security tool bar is a good way of finding out which hosting companies can be trusted. When you go to any website, this toolbar lists which hosting firm that website is with. You can use this to find other companies who are signed with a hosting company you are evaluating and do your own reference checks," said Monkhouse.
Look for cloud providers that offer flexibility
Kate Craig-Wood, managing director of IT hosting company Memset, recommended businesses do not host software with the same people that build it, to avoid putting all their eggs in one basket.
"Instead, purchase your software from one provider, but have a direct relationship with the host," Craig-Wood said. "This makes migration to a new cloud provider easy, since you just need to work with the software supplier to migrate to the new host and are not tied in to one provider.
"If you do need to store documents, I would encourage you to do it yourself, rather than trusting some nebulous non-geographically specific organisation to do it. Simply rent a server from someone U.K.-based that has solid SLAs. You certainly don't pay more."
John Dudmesh, technical director at Winchester-based cloud provider Cloud Data, believes the data migration issue is not just about moving to another provider. "If you want to stage your solution before you put it live you may find you are not able to do that because some cloud providers have proprietary technology. Also, data centres can outsource overspill to outsourcers -- for example a cloud provider provides a burst facility for e-commerce companies at Christmas. But that can create an interoperability problem."
Dudmesh added: "There are a lot of usage-based models at the moment, which doesn't suit everybody. There needs to be more variety and flexibility and it will have to become easier to move around between providers."
IDC analyst Ingle believes the major issue with usage-based models is the total cost of ownership (TCO) over the length of the contract. "If you take CRM for example, on-premise systems might end up being used for many years beyond the original TCO assessment period and as a result, the investment is already written off (although, of course, other investment might be needed), whereas with a usage model, obviously you are paying for the full length of the deployment.
"In terms of models, traditionally per-user/GB/CPU hour per month/year are the norm. I know some people are looking at micropayment, but it is hard to implement in a business environment," Ingle said.
Monkhouse at Peer 1 urges businesses to take control of their data. "You're not signing over your data, you're paying them to store it for you and keep your site online. If a host doesn't let you move your data around easily, you should look elsewhere, because there are plenty that do."
Tracey Caldwell is a contributor to SearchVirtualDataCentre.co.uk.