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Will you be able to Brexit your cloud?

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The vote in favour of Brexit, the uncoupling of Britain from the EU, has captured the world’s attention as markets strain under its economic implications. With both regions hosting a large chunk of the world’s cloud software and services, many South African companies might feel the shockwaves. They may even consider moving their data to safer havens. But will they be able to?
Anton Marais, technical director of local HR software vendor, SmartHR, is concerned. “Companies considering the cloud are usually excited about lower IT costs and rich, mobile-ready user interfaces. But due diligence on the backend is vital. That’s where your business-critical data will reside.”
He’s referring to both local and international SaaS vendors who offer cloud-hosted applications, and whose data is often beyond their clients’ reach.
“How accessible is your data?” asks Marais “Especially when you decide to switch providers because of concerns like Brexit. Or simply because you’ve grown and need to migrate to a more appropriate solution.
He says companies should check the following before signing up:
* Data ownership – Does the SaaS vendor give you total ownership of the data you store? Have a legal professional with experience in cloud service contracts review the terms and conditions. If the service is hosted abroad, understand the legal constraints of that country or state.
* Subscription term – Don’t get locked into a long-term subscription. The best models offer flexible month-by-month or pay-as-you-go contracts, with annual subscriptions in second place. Anything longer could jeopardise your agility.
* Complete data access – Can you download your data at will? Many vendors offer an API from which some data can be extracted. But APIs are integration tools and only provide a subset of your data. Make sure you have complete access to the underlying data store.
* Data format – Will your data be downloaded in an inferior format, like CSV? CSV is a text file with values separated by commas, and one sheet is required for each database table. Marais says a database is more than its values: “The metadata of the values – their types, structure and relationships to other tables – are all stored in the database.” SmartHR clients, for example, can download all their data and metadata in SQL format to easily and quickly reconstruct the entire database.
* Migration – Each application has a different database. So before migration can occur, data must be converted to the new structure. An experienced database consultant can convert from one SQL structure to another without much trouble. A set of CSV files will see this process incur extra costs and slow to a crawl.
* Removal of data – After downloading your data, a copy remains on the server. Ask the vendor how they destroy that copy. Also determine their policy for erasing offsite backups.
Says Marais: “To protect your data, make sure you have complete control from the start. Data ownership is non-negotiable.”
How has this open-access philosophy affected SmartHR’s business? “Our customers tend to stay with us for the long haul. But if SmartHR didn’t fit a client’s needs, we wouldn’t hold them back. It’s the right thing to do.”