The Cloud: Will It Rise to the Occasion When You Need It Most?

How is a cloud-based backup system likely to respond after a business interruption? And at what cost? Here’s what to consider before making a cloud solution part of your overall backup strategy.

90 minutes : The average data center downtime per incident, according to a 2011 Ponemon Institute study. $505,500 : The average cost per outage, according to the study.

Go ahead, think the unthinkable: A massive storm has damaged your data center and knocked out power, shutting down your business. Or maybe the crisis is a run-of-the-mill disk failure in your email server, which could represent just as serious a problem. Can a cloud-based backup service help you get back on your feet any more effectively than the tape solutions you’ve relied on for years?

The threat of productivity-sapping downtime is very real—and very costly. A 2011 study by the Ponemon Institute of 41 large data centers in multiple industries found average data center downtime was 90 minutes per incident. That’s an average cost of about $505,500 per outage, and the costs can be even higher for large enterprises, according to the study.

A third-party cloud storage service may be a good option for companies that must bring critical data assets back online quickly when disaster strikes. Such services are designed to back up files automatically so the most current data is safe. Conversely, they promise to let you restore that data reliably in a relatively short time frame. Your time-to-recovery window is a key consideration in developing any data recovery plan.

But there are some special considerations with cloud-based data backup that you’ll need to consider first. Does your cloud provider guarantee specific data recovery windows? Do you have standby application servers ready that can be reloaded from your cloud provider? And do you have procedures in place—including a contingency staffing plan—to restore data within the time period to meet your business objectives? Perhaps most important, what are the costs associated with implementing these new measures, compared with a tape backup and recovery plan?

Regardless of whether you use tape or try a cloud approach, advance planning is key. More than half (55 percent) of IT professionals say their biggest single disaster recovery challenge with cloud storage is the ability to control failovers and make resources available, according to Symantec’s 2010 survey of 1,700 organizations with 5,000 employees or more.

Here are tips for how to incorporate the cloud into your overall data recovery plan, as a potential way to complement the protection provided by your trusted tape backup infrastructure:

  • Have a plan of action. Who’s in charge when an outage occurs, and who is responsible for specific tasks? Get it all in writing, and make sure you account for the fact that some IT personnel may be unable to report to work right away because of the emergency. The plan should start with an assessment of whether your onsite systems and tape backup are operational and, if not, escalate from there.

  • Vet your cloud. Make sure your cloud storage partner can meet the uptime and availability standards set by your company. It’s also prudent to examine your partner’s own business continuity procedures to ascertain if it’s planned adequately for the unexpected. After all, you’re paying a premium over traditional offsite tape storage for the ability to get critical data as quickly as possible. Be absolutely sure the cloud won’t let you down in a crisis.

  • Testing, 1-2-3. It’s important to regularly check data recovery and disaster recovery measures to make sure that everything will work according to plan when you need it to. Best practices dictate that companies run data recovery drills on at least an annual basis (and quarterly if possible) to ensure that systems recover as expected. Run-throughs also can identify weak spots that need to be fixed. About 82 percent of organizations said they test their disaster-recovery plans at least once a year, according to the Symantec survey.

  • Location, location, location. Your cloud partner should be situated relatively far from your primary data center operation, so that Hurricane Spike doesn’t knock it off the grid too. Note that top-tier cloud services will already have geographically diverse operations, with your data secured in more than one location, as part of their own business continuity plans. In addition, it’s wise to ask the cloud partner if it can perform a tape backup on your information. It should also store the backup securely offsite, in case the facility experiences a disaster.

Planning for worst-case scenarios is a mandatory part of doing business. Cloud-based backup storage can play a supporting role in that equation when combined with reliable tape backup. With a carefully designed strategy, you’ll be the hero when a swift recovery means the company has saved real dollars.

Do you have questions about data backup and recovery? Read additional Knowledge Center stories on this subject, or contact Iron Mountain’s Data Backup and Recovery team. You’ll be connected with a knowledgeable product and services specialist who can address your specific challenges.

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