This is a guest post by Joe Andrews, director of product marketing at VMware.

Gartner predicts worldwide IT spending in 2013 will top $3.7 trillion. Coupled with IDC’s prediction that there will be over $25 billion in acquisitions as cloud services become the centerpiece of more and more vendor’s offerings, you can see that enterprise IT customers will have many more choices in front of them when it comes to acquiring technology and services in 2013.

A 2012 Enterprise Strategy Group study of 243 IT and business professionals further solidifies this trend towards the cloud. The study found that 80 percent of companies are beginning to feel more comfortable with the public cloud as they move beyond the test and development phase of their public cloud deployments and on to production workloads.

So as the new year approaches and IT dollars start getting allocated, what criteria do you need met and what questions do you need to ask a potential service provider if you are evaluating a public cloud?

Through interviews with enterprise IT customers, as well as service providers, we have identified the top areas and questions businesses should ask when considering a move to the cloud:

1. Performance and availability service level agreement: What level of guaranteed uptime and recovery targets does the service provider offer for your applications? Will the service enable you to reserve compute resources and allow you to easily add them on demand?

2. Data security and compliance : Where is your data actually being stored? Is it encrypted? Who has access? Can you get audit controls for regulatory compliance like ISO 27001, SSAE 16, and SOC 2?

3. Hybrid cloud management and application portability: Does the service allow you to bring your existing virtual machines into the service? Is it compatible with your existing on-premise infrastructure? Can you easily get your virtual machines out if you need to? Does the service offer a single pane of glass to manage workloads between private and public cloud environments?

4. Support policy: What will the response time be for any issues should your instance go down or be impacted in some way? What is the escalation path in such situations? Do you have a dedicated support contact?

5. Type of service payment models: Is the service pay-as-you-go to start? Does it offer resource pools to get more capacity at a predictable price point and dedicated instances should your application require physical isolation?

While this process can be daunting, you must consider and weigh the importance of these criteria and evaluate how each service provider meets them. Companies can reap huge business benefits by adopting a private, public, or hybrid cloud computing strategy, including cost savings, disaster recovery, improved operational efficiency, and more.

So before you move your company’s mission-critical workloads to the cloud, make sure your potential service provider passes the test.

Joe-AndrewsJoe Andrews is director of product marketing at VMware and is responsible for marketing VMware’s cloud solutions. He has 20 years of experience in technology marketing, sales, and IT business operations. Previously at VMware, he led virtualization marketing initiatives targeting the Small and Medium Business (SMB) segment. Prior to VMware, he worked at Intuit and iMarket, a software division of Dun and Bradstreet, in various product, channel, and field marketing roles as well as IT business consulting.

Top photo via Karsun Designs/Flickr