Choosing the Right Cloud Platform for Your Startup

Every business needs a cloud service, but figuring out which one is right for your business could be tricky. Here's a guide on how to choose the right platform for your needs

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By Daniel Newman

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Cloud platforms aren't an option for businesses, they are a must. I'd be hard-pressed without one for personal use. But for those who are new to cloud technology, finding the best solution for your startup in the crowded cloud market can be challenging. The good news is, options abound.

Assess your cloud needs.

The first step is determining if your business should rely on a public or private cloud, or if a hybrid will best suit your needs. Here are some questions to ask to determine the ideal services for your business.

What type of data do you need to store? The information you collect will largely determine the particular cloud service you need. Private clouds are a must for sensitive information, but if there's no outside value to your data, a public cloud will suffice.

What software will be in the cloud? Depending on your industry and business, your software will need to be stored either in the public or private cloud; a hybrid could also work.

How many people and devices will be connected? Just like the schoolyard game of "Telephone," the more people involved, the less secure your "phone conversation" will be. Choose an option that reflects your business size and can scale as you grow.

What's your budget? There are options for free public cloud services, but first assess the kind of data you would store there. Private cloud services come with a cost, of course, but it's security you need, it's worth the investment.

Related: 10 Big Misconceptions About Cloud Computing

Assess your cloud options.

Once you assess your cloud needs, here's a closer look at your options, along with some pros and cons of each.

Public Clouds. These standard offerings provide storage of computer resources, such as applications, that are accessible via the internet. There are some free cloud service options, as well as pay-per-use ones. Public clouds use a shared infrastructure to provide services to multiple clients. They work well for non-sensitive data storage, collaboration, or email. Some examples of public clouds are SaaS (software as a service), IaaS (infrastructure as a service), and PaaS (platform as a service).

Pros: Public clouds are flexible and scalable. Cost comes down to use, and location is a non-issue. You can pool high levels of resources with a public cloud, meaning you benefit from larger economies. One big plus for those who aren't cloud-tech savvy: Your business doesn't have to manage it.

Cons: Staying compliant in certain industries like health care becomes an issue with public clouds, as does security. Public clouds are simply more vulnerable to cyberattacks. Reliability is also a concern for public cloud users.

Related: 4 Reasons Small Businesses Should Migrate to the Cloud

Private Clouds. Private clouds don't function all that differently than public ones, except they use proprietary architecture to distribute services. In other words, instead of serving many clients, a private cloud serves just your company. Private clouds work better for changing business models or unpredictable needs. Gartner sees the private cloud industry growing through 2017. That's because they are ideal for tight security demands, uptime needs, and mission-critical workloads. Regulated industries, such as the financial sector and the medical field, require this sort of a secure, separated cloud.

Private clouds are scalable. They are also self-service and offer multi-capacity uses. They are crucial for companies that leverage lots of big data. Most important, however, they are more secure as private clouds provide hosted services situated behind a firewall to a limited number of people.

The two downsides of private clouds are management and money. Businesses' own IT teams must manage private clouds. That means having to budget for staffing, maintenance, and capital. Virtualization, cloud software, and management tools are added costs as well.

Hybrid Cloud. Just as the name suggests, hybrid clouds offer the best of both worlds. They combine a business' on-premises private cloud with public cloud services. Companies can shift workloads between their private and public cloud services as their business demands change. For instance, a company may use an on-premises private cloud for sensitive data, and a public cloud, like Google Compute Engine, for less sensitive material.

I'm not alone in my expectations for an expanding hybrid cloud marketplace -- some projections have it growing to $91.74 billion by 2021.

As for pros and cons, there isn't much to say on the negative side. For highly changeable workloads, hybrids are the ideal solution. They offer the key to scalable and flexible business solutions.

Related: Why Cloud Technology Is the Smart Move Right From Start Up

Understand your data for best coverage.

Startups need cloud service as much as CIOs of established companies. Consider what best suits your needs and budget, and get to work on choosing the one that's best for you. Remember, it's a cloud buyer's market, so don't rely on only one resource when you decide what you need.

Daniel Newman

President of Broadsuite

Dan Newman is the president of Broadsuite where he works side by side with brands big and small to help them be found, seen and heard in a cluttered digital world. He is also the author of two books, is a business professor and a huge fan of watching his daughters play soccer. 

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