28/04/11

By Paul Evans, Managing Director at Redstor

The term ‘cloud computing’ has been widely adopted by the technology industry to describe any on-demand services provided via the internet. It has had a drastic impact on businesses and the technology channel.

As we begin to emerge from the hype around ‘cloud computing’ many businesses are seeing it with more clarity and are focusing on how the cloud will fit into their existing infrastructure, services and solutions. Cloud can be used as a way of accessing a wide variety of services from security, data backup and storage to IT infrastructure, enterprise applications and business continuity.

Many organisations are still nervous about offering cloud services but in these new lean times, the allure of being able to pay as you go is gaining traction. Cloud solutions should be no different to standard solutions.

Pros of Cloud Business Continuity

The cloud makes it easier for service providers to offer on demand, off site, flexible and scalable solutions, which from a Business Continuity (BC) point of view, is imperative to end users.

Hosted services, such as storage and backup take the worry out of the customer’s hands. Typically offsite locations are highly secure and outages are unlikely. The user has the ability to replicate their data to a second server offsite, which is an integral part of a BC policy.

End users also don’t need to invest in hardware and software upfront and there are no peaks in spending as cloud services are paid for on a pay as you go basis, which allows businesses to budget more accurately with predictable pricing models.

End users can also use cloud capabilities on a daily basis such as remote working. This allows businesses to utilise their staff resources more efficiently, accessing data anytime anywhere, particularly if a building has suffered physical damage, the company can continue to operate without a drop in productivity as staff will be accustomed to the remote working environment.

Cons of Cloud Business Continuity

The benefits of cloud solutions are well documented and very compelling to businesses; however there are a number of issues to address when considering a cloud BC solution. If an organisation already has extensive BC solutions, processes and procedures in place then it can be difficult and complex to replicate to the cloud. Re-evaluating all solutions may not be necessary. If testing proves the solution is reliable then the added risk in migrating to the cloud might not be justified.

There has to be a clear service level agreement stipulating how long data will be kept and where it will reside. This is very important for customers to have a clearly defined SLA before signing up to a cloud BC service provider. Cloud partners must stipulate the maximum tolerable downtime (MTD) and both parties must know exactly where they stand if they have to invoke Disaster Recovery (DR).

How to do it

In order to create a cloud BC plan, there are a number of policies to take into consideration: a solid BC plan can take months of planning and each aspect of the business should be involved in this process. Both business managers and the IT function must work together to determine what type of plan is necessary and which systems and business units are most crucial to the company.

Customers must ensure they know their service provider well and can call upon customer testimonials and case studies to help them understand who the service provider has worked with in the past. They should also ask to see reports on penetration testing and risk assessments of the services to evidence the claims the company may make about its services.

There are also accreditations such as FIPS 42 and ISO 9001 that give customers an idea of how secure their data is. If an organisation stores data and information for financial customers then it is reasonable to assume the data is safe as the FSA can levy substantial fines on the companies responsible for customer data if it is lost or stolen.

The simplest way to migrate an existing BC plan to the cloud is to migrate across in small steps rather than all at once. It must be a well considered process and is perhaps easier to start from scratch with certain aspects of BC and DR solutions such as failover and data replication.

Conclusion

The majority of cloud service providers are offering some form of business continuity and backup service purely through the nature of their service needing to be highly available. It provides customers with all of the benefits required for a business continuity strategy without significant investment.

End users must ensure they choose a service appropriate to their business, not just the most popular or most recognised brand name. We believe cloud BC will emerge gradually. IT should be seen as a productivity enabler and essentially it’s not the cloud organisations should worry about; it’s the service behind the cloud that counts.