No one likes to think about the worst-case scenario but, for a good IT department, business continuity considerations need to be baked into every software and infrastructure decision they make. Luckily, cloud computing is making it easier.
In the pre-cloud world, business continuity was a very different conversation. It was about having a plan in place if your office or your data centre went down because of technical failures, natural disasters from a blackout to an earthquake, or man-made disruptions such as the Vancouver Olympics or the Toronto G20 protests, which made it difficult for your employees to get to the office.
In this world, ensuring business continuity meant ensuring your business data and applications had the resiliency in place to be able to continue operations in case of disruption. Businesses with a low tolerance for downtime would even make provisions for secondary work sites where employees could keep working until the main office was back online. It all meant substantial investments in technology, in infrastructure, and in IT staff time keeping the system running smoothly – all to be ready in case a disruption occurs.
At its core, business continuity is about ensuring business can continue, whatever happens. Cloud computing changes the business continuity discussion by taking your data centre out of the equation. When you move data and applications to the cloud, you’re gaining greater resilience, and business continuity can become more accessible by gaining the scale and expertise of a cloud provider with the expertise to deliver business continuity planning and services – expertise you may not have in house.
When you move, say, your enterprise resource planning solution from your on-premise data centre to a hosted solution, you’re passing responsibility for keeping that application up and running to a service provider that specializes in doing just that. They do the planning and give you an uptime guarantee, and your IT staff can focus on more productive, and strategic, business initiatives.
The same holds true with data centre hosting providers, such as Rogers, who can take over hosting your data and applications in their own data centre, taking responsibility for ensuring uptime, tending the servers, and ensuring continued availability in case of a disruption.
When you’ve moved your applications and data to the cloud, you’ve shifted responsibility for ensuring business continuity to external service providers that do this for a living, and can scale to leverage solutions that would be prohibitive for you to do on your own. And with mobile technology, your business continuity plan can be complete. No more securing a backup site with desktops maintained and ready to go; your employees and their laptops just need to get somewhere with Internet access and they’re back to being productive.
Now, while cloud computing may greatly simplify your business continuity planning, it doesn’t get you off the hook entirely. After all, should something go down, it’s still your door that management will be knocking on when something happens. It’s up to you to ensure your service providers know what they’re doing, and that your business is ready.
It begins with a complete audit of your IT infrastructure – what has been moved to the cloud, what remains on premise or under direct management, and what is my business continuity plan for the former? When you sign a contract with a service provider, whether it’s subscribing to a software as a service application or moving to a data centre hosting company, look carefully at the fine print – what is their uptime guarantee, and what provisions have they made for business continuity?
You still need to do your homework and have your business continuity plan on paper and in place, but by building a cloud-enabled IT infrastructure, you can leave the heavy lifting to others.