All your eggs in one cloud

From Mark Hodge, Technical Director of The MCSA Group – January 2014

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I was growing up, talk about clouds usually meant there was bad weather ahead. If you were on a flight and found yourself in heavy cloud, that was also not a good thing. So, the fact that we in the IT industry are presenting the idea of putting an organisation’s most valuable asset, its data, into the Cloud, as the most sensible, practical, economic and safe option, has to be viewed as a quite remarkable feat of concept reversal.

But wait a minute. Has it really all been blue skies and lots of sunshine? The recent failure of Cloud provider 2e2, where customers were effectively held to ransom over continued access to their hosted data, should raise alarm bells. How do the benefits of Cloud Solutions hitting the market at the moment stack up against alternatives where clients still retain direct access to their data and systems?

There are obviously a great many benefits of Cloud based services. These include highly resilient data centres, compute resources and storage available on demand, and the ability to react to rapid demands on other infrastructure components. For the small business with only a few employees, the Cloud also takes away the headache of tiresome and costly system administration.

One of those many IT challenges that I am particularly passionate about is having good, accessible backups, which can be restored in an acceptable time period. Systems break and new ones can be purchased but your data is priceless and the loss of it can cause an organisation to fail.

In my view, having a blend of both Cloud and on-premise IT resources, is the most reliable way forward for SMEs, as it gives both flexibility and access to local data. For example, an HP DL385g8 server, with 32 cores, 168GB of memory and 30TB of storage, that fits into just a 2U rack space, has more than enough power and storage to cater for the IT requirements of many SME’s and will cost less than £10K. Combine this with virtualisation technology and this single system can be quite a power house.

Using applications like Double-Take enable the Cloud hosted data to be replicated in real time back onto your on-premise systems and other products like ShadowProtect allow for scheduled snapshots to be transferred that not only provide near replication features, but also backups. There are many other similar products that can be used to synchronise data and backups between these systems.

Cloud formations are not always what they seem at first sight. Some due diligence on your recommended Cloud provider will often reveal there is a large chain of organisations involved in a proposed solution and not the single one that you first envisaged. The Cloud provider may just be managing the service, using the Data Centre of another provider, who in turn is using other organisations to monitor and manage the hardware and network. If one of these chains of providers fail it could disrupt the service and in the worst case, lose total access to your data.

To have an infrastructure that has the benefits of the Cloud, but that can be failed back to your own on-premise systems in the event of a technical failure or a bankruptcy of one of the companies in the chain of the Cloud solution, can be considerably less expensive than you might think. Keeping a copy of your data locally or on equipment owned by you in a co-located Data Centre, which leverages the benefits of both private and public Cloud accessibility and on-demand scalability, is a balanced approach that minimises risk all round.

It’s a bit like carrying an umbrella. With clouds about that’s always a smart thing to do. Just in case of a cloud burst.