“You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave” – Hotel California by The Eagles
That feeling is what many organizations are experiencing once they have jumped onto a cloud service. It can be hard enough to changing a major on-premise system – just think of the huge costs and time expenditures of Oracle-to-SAP and SAP-to-Oracle stories occasionally in the news. But once your data live in the cloud, it can be almost impossible to get them out.
Before you sign up to a cloud service, make sure to run a trial period and test that you can make a complete data export. Open the file and check that everything you put into the system is actually in your data export, together with all the necessary information about which records are linked to which. If your prospective vendor does not offer a complete data dump that you can automatically pull at will, look for another vendor.
If you do sign up to a cloud service, establish an automatic procedure to retrieve all of your data regularly. This is the only way to be sure that you have your data if your cloud provider goes under, or if all of their servers are impounded because they happened to be running in the same datacenter as a suspected terrorist.
Make sure you can actually leave.