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The Confident SMB

What to do when the cloud brings a chance of showers

Created: 21 Mar 2012
Monica Girolami's picture
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Cloud downtime and outages have been in the news over the last few months and sparking conversations ranging from the best architecture for cloud solution and service providers (CSPs), to which systems and data should be trusted to live in the cloud. A CompTIA survey indicates that one-third of the small businesses are using cloud services, and the most popular cloud solutions are storage and backup followed by email, document management, collaboration and customer relationship management (CRM). Clearly, small businesses trust and rely on the cloud for their business critical data and applications. But what can a small business do if the vendor experiences an outage or downtime?

The answer is simple: expect the best, plan for the worst. If you’re already using one or more cloud services or are planning to do so, you should remember that just like on-premise IT, cloud services and solutions can sometimes go down. Although this is much less likely to happen and less burdensome to recover from than if you were handling your own IT infrastructure.

Nonetheless, downtime translates directly to lost revenue for a small business. In fact, Symantec’s 2011 Disaster Preparedness Survey pegged the median cost of downtime for an SMB at $12,500 per day. For those relying on CSPs, make sure you have a solid Service Level Agreement (SLA) that has clear contractual language and financial penalties if the cloud vendor underperforms. But, if the cloud fails and your website or some other critical app goes down for even a short time, no SLA is going to stop your customer from leaving you for the competition.

So, what do small businesses need to take away from all of this talk of cloud outages and downtime? Just as you would "on the ground," you need a backup and recovery strategy for the cloud. This may mean you pay extra to your CSP for failover and added redundancy, which is the cloud equivalent of backing up your hard drive. It also means you should pull your critical data down into other systems on a regularly scheduled basis. But it doesn’t mean that you need to reinvent the wheel.

As a small business, you should follow the same best practices for disaster preparedness in the cloud that you would for on-premise infrastructure:

  • Don’t wait until it’s too late: Start mapping out a disaster preparedness plan today. The plan should identify your critical resources.
  • Protect information completely: Use appropriate security and backup solutions to archive important files. You may even opt to backup to the cloud.
  • Get employees involved: Educate employees on computer security best practices and what to do if they misplace information.
  • Test frequently: Regular disaster recovery testing is invaluable and should be done anytime anything changes in your environment.
  • Review your plan: You should review your disaster preparedness plan at least once a quarter.

The fact is that you need a backup plan whether you’re using the cloud or not. By wind, fire, water, hacker, human error, or cloud, at some point disaster will strike and every small business may face downtime. For those that are prepared, this will be a blip in the normal course of business; for those that are not, it can be devastating.

How are you planning for recovery of your critical systems?

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