Sandy is a popular topic among cloud providers and IT specialists since it was a “perfect storm” (so to speak) of what can happen when all the disaster and contingency planning is finally put to the test. For many companies, however, the outcome revealed how truly unprepared they were.
Where cloud is concerned, everyone always talks about disaster recovery (DR) and achieving redundancy through multiple availability zones. But one of the issues that Sandy brought to light is that though a company might have DR plans baked into their environments, DR doesn’t end with a cloud being split between two data centers. Even if you have a network environment existing between two places there are so many other minor things involved, you can’t ever be too cautious where DR is concerned.
The truth is that even for a storm like Sandy, cloud in many cases was still the best option for many companies to ensure business continuity. A large part of the value cloud providers brought (or didn’t bring), however, came from their own approach to disaster handling. So when considering a cloud provider as a potential partner, what are the DR considerations you need to vet them by?
An emphasis on replicating: The cloud provider you choose should always be suggesting replication to achieve redundancy. You could be in multiple datacenters and have your cloud provider prepping for contingencies all you want. Even though you may have your infrastructure architectures replicated in both locations, if you don’t replicate data constantly when you cut over during an emergency the loss of data is just as bad as if you hadn’t decided to have a redundant architecture in the first place. If your prospective cloud provider doesn’t champion this point, find one that does.
Stone Age considerations: It seems counter intuitive in the cloud setting to ask all about things like proximity to a flood zone, accessibility to fuel, or physical security. However, many data centers went down and disrupted business simply because they couldn’t get fuel once their generator reserves ran dry. You should ask your cloud provider what steps they have taken to ensure that fossil fuel sources and manual resources are available in case of a major event like Sandy.
What datacenters say about a prospective provider: When you’re looking at a potential cloud partner, understanding what datacenters they house their physical infrastructure in can tell you a lot about them. Datacenter providers like Equinex or Digital Realty are high end facilities, and both had locations that were impacted by Sandy. However, because the datacenters themselves were focused on contingency planning, they were able to stay up and running despite the storm. Where your data and applications are concerned (and by extension your revenue sources) are you really willing to take a chance on a cloud provider who doesn’t use the best tools and relationships to support its clients? Ask your prospective provider who they rent datacenter space from, and then research those data centers to understand their quality compared to market standards.
Cloud provider cloud-readiness: Many cloud providers were disrupted by Sandy simply because their physical location, staff and resources were impacted by the storm. A good cloud provider builds redundancy into their business process down to the way they hire. A cloud company enables your business to be mobile, but if theirs is completely local, you should have some second thoughts. Ask whether they have contingency staff in disparate geographic locations. Understand how they enable their staff to work remotely to manage clients in the case of a Sandy situation. Knowing these aspects of the cloud provider’s business can tell you a lot about how seriously they take DR, both for their clients and themselves by extension. It also speaks to how committed they are about maintaining up-time for their clients.
Transparent outsourced technical staff: This point is something that should always be considered, but in combination with all the above points, it’s an important metric to judge a provider by. Is the outsourced tech bench knowledgeable in all DR best practices? Are they transparent in their planning? Are they willing to have tough conversations with you around these topics, even willing to push back and make recommendations that aren’t convenient to getting a contract signed in the name of preparedness? You want a cloud provider who will be a real partner to your business, down to the database engineer. If they show they care as much about your DR plans as you do, perhaps even more, then they are certainly worth consideration.
By Jake Gardner