Cloud computing as a business continuity plan

By   |  May 6, 2009

Business continuity planning and disaster recovery is an essential business risk management technique which is great on paper but often doesn’t deliver when it needs to. Business continuity planning is also expensive and has always been something only large corporates, with large budgets, could afford. But now, with cloud computing, even small businesses can put a plan in place to ensure they are able to continue their business in the face of a radical environment changes.

The key part of defining your business continuity plan is to identify your core operational systems and work processes, the ones that you need in order to deliver services and products to your customers. Part of this, naturally, will be identifying your key suppliers, business partners and staff so that you can continue to provide your customers with a world-class service. The key to a cost-effective plan is to design your systems and processes from the get-go with redundancy and flexibility in mind. i.e just like an architect designs a skyscraper with the ability to withstand an earthquake, so too should you design your business systems.

From an IT perspective this means three things:
– architecting your IT infrastructure and application systems to be distributed with no single point of failure;
– ensuring your systems have built-in data and application redundancy; and
– having the ability for these systems to be accessed securely from any location, at any time,

With the explosion of the Internet and telecommunications over the past decade, the ability to provide remote access to systems has become affordable for even the smallest companies. No longer do you need expensive leased lines to provide access to systems; in fact you no longer even need lines, but can access your corporate network wirelessly, thanks to the plethora broadband options now available.

Hardware and data redundancy have been expensive, until now
The problem that made business continuity, and disaster recovery in particular, extremely expensive was always the need for redundant hardware, both on-site and at hot-standby remote sites. Even for those that could afford the price tag it was, or is, very seldom the case that the disaster recovery plans provided for exact replicas of the current IT infrastructure, with only the absolute minimum hardware and resources being provided for. If these plans ever needed to be implemented in reality, it was unlikely that they would have provided the resources necessary to run the IT infrastructure, even at a reduced level of performance.

In addition the process of backing up critical data and applications has always been problematic. Constant vigilance is necessary to perform backups and, more importantly, test data restoration. Despite all kinds of policy and procedures in place the IT department may only realise that backups have been corrupt for the past two weeks when you actually need to restore data. Or, even worse, you may only find you’re missing one critical necessary to restore your systems to working order after a system crash.

But over the past three years an amazing development with respect to IT has occurred. The advent of “cloud computing” has made the provision of dynamically scalable and virtualised resources widely, and cheaply, available. Corporates such as Google and Amazon now provide highly available, scalable and redundant services at affordable rates. Such services include:

– Email (Google)
– Office productivity applications (Google)
– Web application hosting (Google)
– Data storage (Amazon)
– Virtual Servers (Amazon)

What’s more, these services are aimed at businesses, allowing you to integrate them into your business processes and at the same time allowing you to “brand” them as your own systems. Any company that builds their infrastructure on top of these services will automatically have built-in hardware and data redundancy and backup. What’s more, since they are services provided on the Internet cloud, you automatically have remote access to these resources from anywhere in the world.

Start architecting your IT infrastructure for cloud computing
So, if you are setting up your IT infrastructure, or planning your future infrastructure architecture, you should seriously consider basing your systems on cloud computing services. If you haven’t got any plans to change your current systems, perhaps you should reconsider?

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Mark Clarke is an open source solutions architect with over 15 years experience designing world-class solutions for customers, that are robust, scalable and cost-effective. He works for Jumping Bean, an open source solutions company based in Johannesburg, South Africa. Mark’s technical blog and podcast on all things open source can be found at http://www.jumpingbean.co.za/blog

Cloud image source: FreeFoto.com

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