A look at a core benefit of virtual technology
By Nabeel Sayegh
I remember reading an article toward the end of last year about a
fire in a local strip mall. The blaze broke out early one morning in an office
in one of the small businesses located there. Luckily, no one was hurt. But by
the time emergency services had the situation under control, four businesses
A friend of mine knew one of the business owners; and a few
months later, I had an opportunity to speak with him about the incident. The
business was a small startup offering CPA and other financial planning
services, and it had been around for only about three years. The owner and
others had invested substantial time, effort and money into building the
clientele. The company was nearly paper-free, but there was plenty more that
the fire destroyed: computers, file servers, printers, fax machines, furniture.
Everything was gone.
The business did have tape backups of customer data. But
considering that the tape drives were in the office and damaged along with the
other equipment, they were essentially useless. It took about a month for the
owner to find another location and get up and running with the necessary
replacement equipment. Unfortunately, most of his customers had already taken
their business elsewhere. As fate would have it, the business soon closed for
If you take anything away from this cautionary tale, it should be
the importance of protecting customer data and making certain that you have
iron-clad business continuity and disaster recovery plans. Why? Ask yourself
this simple question: What would it mean to everyone involved in your business if you went to work one day and your
business was not there? The likely answer: "Nothing short of a disaster."
It is very easy to be complacent—just hoping for the best
without actually planning for the worst. Sure, five or 10 years ago, having true
business continuity and disaster recovery solutions might have been
cost-prohibitive. But today, cloud computing puts them well within reach.
So—how does "The Cloud" solve the business continuity and
disaster recovery dilemma? It helps to first identify the difference between
business continuity and disaster recovery. They are closely related but not the
same. Next, it helps to identify various solutions currently available for each
Generally speaking, disaster recovery
refers to a set of processes, policies, procedures and/or solutions that a
company implements to be able to quickly and reliably recover from any business
interruption. Keep in mind that such interruptions can be caused by natural
events as well as human error or transgression. Typically, a disaster recovery
solution aims to protect the availability of an IT/computing infrastructure,
but it presumes an urgency to make the entire business resilient.
Disaster recovery is a component of business
continuity, which refers to the umbrella of operational activities
performed on a regular basis to safeguard service, consistency, and
recoverability. Business continuity is essentially a method of doing business
that ensures normal operations, not a specific activity to execute.
Types of cloud services
Now, how do cloud services assist in achieving good disaster
recovery and business continuity? There are three basic types of services you
will encounter and should consider when planning your solution: Infrastructure
as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and—my personal
favorite—Software as a Service (SaaS).
IaaS provides a computing framework in which to deploy your
applications. For instance, you may need more than just a single server. You
might need Web services or database back ends to run your critical business
apps. IaaS provides these pre-loaded components in a collective environment
where they can easily interact, enhancing your ability to holistically run your
business from the cloud. Companies like Terremark, Savvis and Telx are examples
of service providers that deliver IaaS technology.
PaaS is essentially like having a remote infrastructure. Today,
you may have servers and storage sitting in your back office that contain all
your critical customer data. PaaS allows you to move this data onto a server in
the cloud that you can reach via the Internet. Rackspace.com and Sungard
Availability Services are examples of cloud service providers that will give
you a server along with any amount of storage you want. You can even add
services like backup/restore capabilities for point-in-time recovery. At the end
of the day, PaaS gets your data and perhaps some applications physically out of
your office, but you still have control of what happens to those applications
(from a lifecycle management perspective) and their associated data.
If you're thinking you did not go into business to run an IT
shop, SaaS may be the choice for you. An SaaS provider delivers a complete,
licensed application for use on demand without an end user having to worry
about how it is being delivered. The user simply runs the application to manage
the business. Everything else is managed by the SaaS provider. You're already
experiencing SaaS if you use Hotmail, Gmail, Salesforce.com, Shutterfly,
GoogleApps or any number of similar applications.
By now, it should be clear how disaster recovery and business
continuity plans can help make your agency more resilient. Simply put, the more
you can leverage the cloud to make your business more mobile, the less impact a
localized disaster will have. That's good news for you and your customers, who
rely on your ability to service them when they need you most.
Ultimately, the level of cloud integration you consider will be
based on many different factors. But in most cases, the return on investment
for using cloud services lies in:
• Not requiring that you spend time managing and maintaining
physical hardware and software locally in your office (and not requiring that
you pay someone else to do it for you).
• Increased data security from eliminating the possibility of
exposure and liability due to physical theft at your place of business.
• Reduced spending on power/cooling.
• Dramatically increased agility in being able to recover from a
In devising your disaster recovery and business continuity plans,
don't overlook the peripheral benefits of moving your business applications to
the cloud. Because you connect to and run your business from anywhere there is
Internet access, you don't have to be at work to do work. You can hire
employees just about anywhere and diversify your employee talent pool. Work
from home also becomes possible, allowing you to save on your bottom line
expenses by not having to provide costly workspace, telecom and computing
infrastructure. In addition, you can reduce spending on travel costs and not
have to be subject to inclement weather that could prevent your employees from
getting to work.
Even if you are not ready to start a move to the cloud, you might
at least start thinking about how to better protect your business in case of a
natural or manmade disaster. The cloud can certainly benefit different
businesses in different ways; but in general, it's about detaching your
business from the risks and limitations of brick and mortar. When you do
business in the cloud, the sky's the limit.
Nabeel Sayegh is a data center engineering supervisor at
Applied Systems, Inc., developer of agency management software Epic®,
TAM®, Vision® and DORIS™. He last wrote about insurance
virtualization in the September 2010 issue of Rough Notes.