Lessons learned from Japan: use cloud-based disaster recovery strategy

The world is still watching the island nation of Japan intently as it struggles to address the aftermath of a record 8.9 magnitude earthquake, followed by a devastating tsunami, a volcano eruption, and multiple nuclear reactors threatening to meltdown. In the wake of the destruction, business as usual needs to resume as quickly as possible, and companies that have embraced cloud solutions have a distinct advantage.

The natural disasters have severly crippled Internet and communications across the nation–and throughout much of the region. That makes it difficult to access cloud-based servers, applications and data storage. However, the interruption of network availability is temporary, while companies that relied purely on local infrastructure may find their servers under a pile of rubble, and their backup data washed away with the tsunami.

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Cloud-based disaster recovery a faster and cheaper option

It is an unfortunate lesson to have to learn the hard way–especially this hard way. But, an event like the epic disaster in Japan is a dramatic example of the value of cloud solutions when it comes to resiliency in the face of a catastrophe, and the ability to recover and resume operations as quickly as possible. Let’s look at some of the ways cloud solutions help your company rebound:

Servers. Hosting servers in the cloud using services like those offered by Amazon or Rackspace means having those servers a safe distance from any disaster. Cloud hosting providers also generally have more redundancy of network connections, mirrored sites, and other precautions to ensure access under adverse conditions.

Applications. I am a big fan of running Microsoft Office locally on my laptop. But, if my laptop is destroyed, so is my productivity. Companies that make use of cloud-based applications like Google Apps, or Microsoft’s Business Professional Online Services (BPOS–soon to be replaced by Office 365) can log in and be productive from virtually anywhere and any device–including smartphone or tablets.

Online Data.Like my local copy of Microsoft Office, I also tend to keep my data stored locally on my laptop’s hard drive. Seems convenient at the time, but had I been in Japan during the disaster there is a fair chance my laptop would not have survived. Using services like Box.net,  Dropbox or SugarSync means that your data lives in the cloud. It is everywhere you are, and like cloud applications can be accessed from just about any device capable of connecting to the Web.

Cloud Backup. Many companies fail to backup critical systems on a periodic basis at all, but it is even more unfortunate when an organization has taken the time to create the backups, but the backups end up getting destroyed at the same time as the servers and data their backing up. Using a cloud-based backup solution gives you peace of mind that–when the dust settles and you’re ready to rebuild your systems and resume normal operations–your backup data will be there for you.

Don’t get me wrong–there are potential pitfalls and drawbacks to cloud solutions as well. There are potential security and data protection concerns. A simple, non-nation crippling disaster, Internet outage can grind business to a halt. Cloud-based applications and data are of little use while traveling on airplanes not equipped with Wi-Fi, or to sites with poor network connectivity.

This is not a wholesale endorsement to abandon local applications and data storage and rush to the cloud. But, those managers in Japan who pushed their organizations to embrace the cloud look like heroes now. These scenarios certainly provide some very credible reasons to put on the “pros” side of ledger when weighing your cloud options.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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