I recently saw a LinkedIn post from an industry analyst equating the term "cloud computing" to "just a computer that lives somewhere else." While I'm sure there was a jestful side to the post, the underlying message highlighted a very important point that software buyers should be considering.

If the "cloud” solution you are buying equates to a direct, 1-to-1 server substitution in an on-premise location, it isn't cloud, it's hosting. In a former life as a director of ecommerce, I "hosted" my ecommerce software. That server wasn't in my building, but it was in a data center in Seattle. Unlike the cloud, I knew every detail about that server, down to the serial number. If there was an operating system upgrade or patch that needed to happen, it was my team that did it in the wee hours of the morning. If a piece of hardware failed on the server, there weren't other servers taking over the traffic. And if the ecommerce software I was running needed an update, you guessed it, we were doing it in those same wee hours with an energy drink or two.

Cloud technology goes beyond a server living somewhere else. For one, true cloud technology utilizes a scalable infrastructure that allows for a business to go from the lazy days of summer to the crazy days of Black Friday and Cyber Monday without installing more servers, configuring networks, or installing software.

True cloud technology should be easily configurable and built on common technologies to allow your business solution to grow outside of the box. My first foray into cloud technology as a retailer was in 2008. Configurations were difficult and any development required knowledge of the software vendor's proprietary language which proved challenging. Look for common source languages like java and javascript vs. a language you have to send someone to class for a month to understand.

One of the biggest benefits with cloud technology is that businesses can focus on putting their resources into innovation and development instead of server maintenance and upgrade management. The result for me as a retailer, upon deploying my first cloud technology and moving away from upgrade management was enlightening. I used to joke that at one retailer I worked for, our IT department was 5x the size of our marketing department. At some point we were all hoodwinked into being convinced we should be technologists first and retailers second.

As we are all inundated with choosing the right cloud solutions in 2016, I'd like to leave you with some important questions to ask vendors before making any decisions.

  • Ask them to explain their multi-tenant architecture and scalability/elasticity. If they don't know the term or can't explain it, run away.
  • Ask them what programming languages you can leverage to develop on the platform if you chose to do so.
  • Ask them about best practices for your industry and how those have been incorporated into the software to make your life easier.
  • Ask them how many servers you'll need. If they say two or three or any specific number, they are talking hosting not cloud.
  • Ask them what will happen if your volume doubles overnight.
  • Please, please ask them what the upgrade process is like, how often it takes place and what kind of features they've released over the past two years.
  • Finally, make sure to ask what percentage of customers are on their current release.

There are a lot of “cloud posers” out there, so it behooves all software buyers to become as educated as possible on what cloud technology really is and really isn’t.

Learn More:

Download this free research report from SL Associates that outlines how a cloud-based business management solution delivers benefits across retail organizations and see the quantifiable performance improvements realized by retailers after switching to NetSuite.

Research Report: Cloud Solutions Deliver Key Performance Improvements to Retailers