Although not a new concept, the popularity of cloud computing is continuing to soar, says Robert Rutherford, Managing Director of, QuoStar Solutions. Many companies, however, are still unsure about what impact "moving to the cloud" will have on their business continuity plans.

Cloud Computing — and indeed the whole concept of "Software as a Service" — is continuing to grow in popularity. Already, these new Web-based models of software distribution are completely transforming the way in which companies access and store their business-critical applications and data.

With traditional "off-the-shelf" software packages, an application is normally installed on the company's main server, and then on each computer in the office. With the SaaS model, however, key business applications are typically stored and accessed securely from a central, off-site location, often referred to as "the cloud". In terms of Business Continuity, this model has many obvious advantages if, for example, the company's premises become inaccessible for any reason.

One key benefit of cloud computing focuses on the IT infrastructure itself; a strong SaaS provider will have highly sophisticated systems that offer a much greater level of resilience than most businesses could ever create for themselves. After all, the SaaS vendor's whole business depends on the service that it's providing, and so a reliable supplier will do everything possible to avoid even small outages, as these can damage its reputation and revenue very quickly.

As a result, as long as a reputable SaaS vendor is chosen, businesses will be much more resilient to failure, and their business continuity plans will be much stronger. In fact, companies should view the switch to SaaS as a perfect opportunity to undertake a comprehensive review of their existing policies and procedures in this area, in order to make sure that they are reaping the many benefits made possible by storing their data "in the cloud".

The choice of technology partner will also be very important, and companies should not hesitate to ask questions about how SaaS will affect them before, during, and after the implementation. For a start, companies considering a move to cloud computing need to make sure that they understand how to retrieve their data from the SaaS provider if/when necessary, and should also check whether their data will be returned in an accessible format that will allow them to return to normal operations very quickly, should disaster strike. A specialist SaaS vendor will have no problem answering these questions in detail.

Other things to consider should include a thorough check of the provider's indemnity cover in case of any problems, as well as a careful review of any Service Level Agreements (SLAs) to ensure they meet the business’ service needs and that they are also heavily UK focused. For example, some SaaS providers will only commit to delivering support services during US working hours, and that is not always made clear at the outset.

Also, businesses should consider how the switch to cloud computing will help with scenarios like train strikes or heavy snow storms: will the business expect its employees to work remotely from home in cases like these? And if so, how will the SaaS vendor make sure that any communication into its SaaS service is secure? Few businesses will want to take risks in this area, and therefore will need to check whether their supplier will be able to protect their data and communications in situations like these.

Companies migrating to SaaS should also ask whether their provider will replicate all of their data, and if so, to what location. Will it all be held in the same city, county or country? From a security point of view, a knowledgeable SaaS provider will make sure that the company's key data isn't all being held in the same city. Managers should also review the SaaS provider's data centre specifications in order to be both familiar and comfortable with the facilities being provided, since a reputable provider will have nothing to hide in this regard.

With so many clear benefits, cloud computing can definitely make it easier for the business to carry on in the event of a incident, since data and applications can easily be accessed from re-located offices or by staff working from home. As such, the use of a robust SaaS solution can make it much easier for an organisation to continue operating if it suffers a disaster, since all of the key applications and services being delivered via SaaS will continue to run automatically, and in accordance with the company's business continuity plan.

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