In a perfect world, every accounting system you use, every document, every business contact, and every file would be a click away. As we've learned in recent months, having a good disaster recovery plan is crucial - disaster can strike at any time, disrupting your business in unexpected ways.
Yet, as many small companies have moved to the cloud (which is a new way to run applications, store data, maintain contacts, and do accounting online) the concept of disaster recovery is changing.
Many companies have changed their disaster recovery plans because they figure the cloud will continue to operate no matter what happens to the physical building or computers.
Amy Galanti, the operations director at Broadband Capital Management in New York, says her company has recently augmented their disaster recovery. She says the cloud makes the data and applications safe, but the plan now revolves around how employees will access that data.
"We need to know what the plan is to get to our critical services," she says. However, the "where" in the equation is no longer as important. "Where our critical business services are running has become less important in a disaster recovery plan because we know the data and applications are safe.
Galanti says the perspective on disaster planning for how to access cloud services has changed because most of the cloud computing they do in their business is not run locally. Even though some of the local applications, such as Microsoft Outlook, run within Windows, the actual e-mail is housed off-site, not on a local server. The business does not even store documents locally - everything is scanned and stored online.
Broadband Capital uses IT On Demand for infrastructure planning and cloud computing. She says they have had to deal with lost documentation and e-mails, and have moved their offices three times, and rely on that service for how data is stored redundantly.
For Broadband, their financial services business would continue unabated if disaster struck, as employees would access cloud services from temporary locations. However, as many companies move to the cloud, it's increasingly important to still make back-ups. One reason is that, while you may be using a cloud service, you might not have a way to make back-ups of the cloud.
One example of how this is done is Argo Translation, based in Glenview, Illinois. The company provides translation services to companies in multiple market segments. Managing director Peter Argondizzo described how the company switched to Microsoft Exchange hosted service in the cloud for business e-mail, but found they did not have easy access to back-ups.
"We had an unfortunate incident where we couldn't find a specific file on a tape," he says. "We searched through five daily tapes and four weekly tapes and just couldn't locate the file. We wasted hours on the task with no result. Thankfully it wasn't that important of a file. This was our wakeup call."
Instead of just using the plain-vanilla Exchange Online service, they use Ubistor for the hosted Exchange e-mail. The company provides cloud back-ups, so Argondizzo says they do not use a local e-mail server or perform any tape back-ups on premise.
Of course, sometimes a cloud back-up is the one you store locally. That's how Urban Martial Arts, a martial arts studio located in Brooklyn, operates.
In their case, the business and the physical building operate as one. Without the studio, the company could not hold classes or tournaments. Carmen Sognonvi, the owner and general manager, uses a mobile strategy for her disaster planning instead of running any local IT services.
She uses a service called DropBox for all business file storage. If the building was damaged in a natural disaster, she knows she can focus on getting the business rebuilt and continue to manage the company from any remote location. The strategy also helps her manage the business from any devices - a home and work computer and even from her iPhone.
Part of her strategy is that all the files she maintains on DropBox are also housed locally as a cloud back-up. That means she has mobile access and a local hard disk back-up.
One issue with using the cloud as a disaster plan, though, is that you have to place your trust in the provider. Sognonvi says she is "at the mercy" of DropBox and there is a risk involved.
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In most of these cases, the businesses use the cloud as an augment to their disaster recovery plan. For some companies, the cloud itself has become the disaster recovery plan.
Greg Altieri is the chief operating officer at MacNair Travel Management, based in Alexandria, Virginia. The company arranges travel for corporate clients.
In 2010, the company was hit by two major storms (which Altieri called Snowmaggedon and Snowpocalypse), dumping about 55-inches of snow in the Washington D.C. area that could have crippled their business. During both storms, not a single employee made it into the office.
Macnair uses all cloud services for business operations, for all employees. The company uses a service called Cetrom IT, which houses all the company applications in a network operations center. Cetrom handles the data back-ups and duplicates data between two facilities.
"We can access our applications, operating systems and data anywhere at any time with only an Internet connection and browser," says Altieri. "Nothing short of a nuclear holocaust can shut us down. Not being dependent on a single location or data/voice carrier, and having full, operational back-up, is why the cloud is perfect for continuity of operations plans. Clearly the best disaster recovery plan is one that all but eliminates the operational impacts of a disaster before it happens."
Interestingly, while all of these disaster recovery strategies depend on the cloud, all of the business contacts said the cloud is not entirely fool-proof. Galanti still asserted that there needs to be an overall disaster recovery plan for the business: where will the employees work, how will the physical building be restored, which IT services can be suspended while critical systems are restored.
Yet, the overarching theme was: the cloud is a critical component in disaster planning; it relives most of the tension with IT services; and, it provides a new level of business continuity.
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