Lynn LeBlanc is CEO and founder of HotLink.
With IT’s priority in business-critical operations at an all-time high, few would deny the increasing importance of business continuity. When every outage – regardless of size – spells downtime that can affect productivity, revenue and reputation, IT shops know they’re walking a tightrope. CIOs and IT managers are out on the high wire, trying to balance the mandate for uninterrupted activity with their warranted fears of operational failures.
The nightmare scenario is a catastrophic disaster, but there’s also a long list of everyday operational failures and security breaches that are nearly impossible to avoid. And yet, the reality of traditional business continuity solutions has prevented IT leaders from adequately protecting themselves. It has been too expensive, too resource-intensive and too complicated to implement for most workloads. Today, the cloud is changing that.
The Not-So-Secret Truth About Traditional Business Continuity
For years, the optimal scenario for business continuity has been regionally diverse locations that mirror primary data centers in every way. However, such sites are rare among enterprises of almost every size. Most mid-market organizations have never created secondary sites at all, even in colocation facilities. Ask any CIO why this is and you’ll hear three primary reasons: cost, complexity and management challenges. To maintain secondary business continuity sites requires enormous investments, not only in facilities, hardware and software, but also in the personnel to maintain the site, manage it and keep it in sync with the primary data center.
For the overwhelming number of CIOs who had no financial choice but to forgo a business continuity solution, the reality is that eventually, most will, in fact, suffer a disaster. There will be hardware or software failures that destroy some number of critical files or virtual machines (VMs). Possibly, a virus or power failure will take down a cluster. Or perhaps it’s a flood or tornado that brings down an entire data center. The resulting downtime, as IT scrambles to respond, will take hours or days or weeks, depending on the scope of the failure.
Cloud Data Protection Moves to Stage Three: Business Continuity
While CIOs have continued to struggle with the harsh realities of traditional offerings, the public cloud has proven itself in related realms: data backup and disaster recovery (DR). Backing up to the cloud is now a mainstream practice. IT leaders in businesses of every size today accept the cloud as a cost-effective option for storing data and VMs off-premise, where it is then accessible for recovering back on-premise, if and when needed.
Cloud-based business continuity is the next wave, and this is a very positive development in the industry. While backup to and DR from the cloud can provide significant value for some use cases, physics cannot be ignored for others. Large VMs and sizable change sets are not atypical for production workloads, and restoring them back onsite can take so long, it may prove unviable. This is an important example of the value of business continuity in the cloud, where large workloads can be quickly restored and brought online. Then, when convenient to operations, they can be migrated back on-premise – off-hours, for example.
Cloud-based business continuity hits the trifecta of IT must-haves:
- Availability: Amazon Web Services may be the de facto public cloud option, but other players are in the market and are worth watching. In any case, cloud-based business continuity is becoming more widely available.
- Affordability: Cloud-based business continuity typically runs a fraction of the cost of traditional alternatives because it leverages scale and the low-cost, pay-as-you-go economics of the cloud.
- Portability: Depending on the provider, workload conversion and portability may be integrated into cloud-based business continuity offerings at no extra cost; this is critical to achieving maximum flexibility at a minimum cost.
Don’t Forget About Business Continuity Management
Operational complexity and its related costs have long been one of the top reasons organizations give for inadequate business continuity coverage. Changing that equation for the cloud has a couple of important components and should be part of the planning discussion from the beginning. First of all, wherever possible, CIOs should leverage and extend their existing on-premise management environments for business continuity; this unification will pay dividends in staff productivity, ease of deployment and lower costs. Secondly, cloud-based solutions should provide dramatic strides in testing simplicity. If they don’t, look elsewhere. The ease of testing enables greater testing frequency, and this will significantly increase the accuracy of your secondary site in the cloud. Accuracy is core to rapid recovery following a crisis.
CIOs shouldn’t live in a constant state of fear that their operations will fail due to lack of business continuity availability, affordability and portability. The cloud makes protection within reach of organizations of every size. With the exciting progress of these solutions, every CIO should have one on his or her short list, even if only as a pilot project to get started.
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