Out of site, but in mind

Services abound for business continuity and disaster recovery in the cloud, but what's the right choice for your organisation? Alan Earls investigates the options.

Court rules that Google’s data collection practices are not exempt from federal wiretap law.
Court rules that Google’s data collection practices are not exempt from federal wiretap law.

There was a time when ‘clouds' were for poets and dreamers. Now, the cloud is front and centre about business. And nowhere has that been better demonstrated than by the evolution of cloud-based disaster recovery (DR) and business continuity (BC) planning.

While high-profile outages from major providers within the past year have put everyone on notice that storing data offsite has not yet been perfected, the fact is that vast amounts of day-to-day business is now conducted using cloud-based resources. And despite some glitches, analysts say cloud-based DR is making inroads – particularly for the small to medium-sized business market, but also, increasingly, for the enterprise.

Overall, the jury is still out on whether cloud computing models will help or hinder BC and DR efforts. “But, from what we know so far, there are a number of benefits,” says Patrick Potter, governance, risk and compliance strategist at Massachusetts-based RSA, the security division of EMC. For example, Potter says distributed, diversified cloud support models can reduce the impact of regional disruptions from natural disasters, especially since it's likely that not all participants in the support chain are located in proximity to each other. “Thereby, they can continue supporting the IT infrastructure and business processes,” Potter says.

Also, because of the varied access methods available, such as via PCs and mobile devices, and facilitated by cloud structures, it is easier for users to access their BC/DR plans and the applications they need to use. “These access methods are flexible, allowing users to get the information they need wherever they are – or are moving to – in response to a natural disaster,” says Potter.

Far from disaster

From an industry perspective, cloud-based backup and disaster recovery (BDR) is a “good play for the SME space because those companies are generally challenged to provide DR and backup using on-premises resources,” says Steve Brasen, managing research director of systems management at Enterprise Management Associates (EMA), a Colorado-based consulting services firm.

In fact, he says, BDR is a subset of business continuity, which focuses not just on IT, but on all the things a business needs to operate. “A core precept of BDR is you need your data in two places,” says Brasen. “The source data will be on-premises, and if the duplicate is in the cloud, it is remote, and you are covered.”

However, he says, SMEs have traditionally found it is costly and difficult to do actual archiving – with all the checks and balances – so these firms usually end up doing rudimentary backup rather than true DR. So, the advent of cloud BDR has opened the doors for these organisations to extend their internal capability to the cloud. Now, they can have off-site backup at a reasonable price – typically provided on a subscription basis. “That is the big step for smaller companies,” Brasen says. “If you only need your backup stored for immediate recovery, maybe a cloud-based service is the cheapest and easiest route.”

People are thinking much more about BC, rather than just DR, says Jason Buffington, senior data protection analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, a global advisory firm based in Massachusetts. “Think of DR as data resilience, but not always with an immediate expectation of resumption of service,” he says. On the other hand, BC is where there is the assumption that – via automation or orchestration – a continuity of operations is available.

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