One of the big advantages of cloud computing is the easy accessibility it affords to a virtually limitless supply of high-powered computing resources for small and medium-sized businesses. Migrating IT operations to the cloud need not be difficult, but you should approach this exercise with a well-crafted plan in hand, starting with a step-by-step assessment to determine which of your operational needs can be addressed by cloud solutions.

Leslie Spasser, who leads the media, Internet, and e-commerce industry team at LeClairRyan, P.C., suggests SMBs considering migration to the cloud should analyze individual functions on the basis of eight key factors:

  • Whether the function is within your business’s core competency.
  • Whether it is mission-critical.
  • Existing costs/resources expended to perform the function and their affect on overhead.
  • Number of FTE (full-time equivalent) employees devoted to performing the function.
  • Satisfaction with the current in-house solution.
  • How integrated the function is with other operational areas/systems.
  • Whether the function is regulated.
  • Lifecycle of the current system.

Most important is that you understand your exact business requirement, says David Rocamora, vice president of development operations at Control Group, a technology consulting, design, and implementation firm. “Many IT systems make sense when they exist as they do now, but things become different when you use the cloud. For example, making it easy to share files between coworkers is a business requirement. A fileserver is one solution to that, but just because you have used one in the past doesn’t mean you need to set one up in the cloud. Services like Dropbox or Google Docs may be a better fit,” he explains.

It’s also important to shop around, Rocamora adds, because while there are many solutions available, they are not all created equal. He advises paying special attention to security, availability, and reliability guarantees and remedies. “The last thing you want to do is migrate to the cloud and have a disaster immediately because the service is not a good fit for your business,” he warns.

Spasser stresses that in migrating to the cloud, SMBs can face issues that create operational and/or legal concerns. Among them are vendor “lock-in,” lack of control over product evolution, backup and disaster recovery, data security, ownership of information, compliance with data production/retention obligations, lack of control over location of data, business continuity risks, and end-of-contract risk. “Many (of these issues) can be addressed by very thorough due diligence on the front end as well as continued vigilance during the term of the vendor agreement, and many can be addressed contractually,” she says. “But all can be issues and, with the wrong vendor, can end up creating serious problems for a business.”

Establishing a timeline can be important to the success of a cloud migration plan. “For one thing, it gives both parties (the SMB and the vendor) shared expectations as to when a given event or task must occur,” says Todd S. McClelland, a partner in Alston & Bird LLP. “As vendor resources are often occupied with the on-boarding and servicing of other customers, it can be critical to lock in the timeline so that the vendor can appropriately schedule the necessary resources to facilitate your migration.”

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