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Simply Tech

Virtually secure

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 were destroyed.

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 good.

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 plan.

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. 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,, 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 business disruption.

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.

The author

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.


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