Earthquakes, Tsunamis and Cloud Computing

This past few days we have seen yet another example how with all of the technological advances we have made, we are not immune to mother nature and the forces that we must contend with on the earth every day.  Japan was my home for two years, and my thoughts and prayers go out to the people who were effected by this tragedy.  Like it or not, the Pacific Rim and other areas of the world are prone to incidents like this.  Life and Business need to be able to go on even when things like this happen.  I was reading CNET.com the other day and came across this article that tell us that the “Tokyo Quake puts data centers, Cloud services at risk“.  There was then this article more or less echoing the article with a bit more detail.  With all due respect while the events that took place were devastating and will impact the area for years, or potentially thousands of years if the nuclear issues can’t be addressed, these events should have little impact on business, and here is why I say that (hear me out on this).I think it was about a year ago, perhaps a little longer, when I was sitting at a table for nine people at a popular Tampa area restaurant.  I was waiting for a customer for lunch and I had invited him to bring his whole IT Department.  When he showed up, it was just him…no IT department.  When I asked him where the rest of the group was his answer surprised me.  “I want to get rid of my entire IT staff within the next two years, and move everything to the Cloud.  Everyone except for two desktop support guys.  I want all of the servers gone.  I am slimming things up”.  Interesting, because this company has all kinds of issues like security and other issues of privacy and regulation.  In short…what they were looking to do was a BAD idea on the surface, but I didn’t say that.  I just listened.

I think we need to take a step back and remember there are really three kinds of Clouds.  Private Clouds (running on your own hardware under your control with any your data), Public Clouds (running on hardware owned and operated by someone else which is also in use by others) and Hybrid Clouds (a mixture of Private and Public Clouds giving you the ability to extend your Private Cloud to the Public Cloud as needed).  Running a Private Cloud gives you all the benefits of Cloud architecture with the security of knowing your data isn’t sharing systems with someone else.  Let’s face it…that is a concern to a lot of people.  But there are times when you can benefit from bursting to a Public Cloud as the need arises for data that isn’t as sensitive with privacy and regulatory issues surrounding it.  Let’s forget about security for a moment and talk about availability, and the article that got my attention in the first place.  I didn’t go with the title “Earthquakes, Tsunamis and Cloud Computing” be accident.  In fact, I should have called it “Earthquakes, Tsunamis, Utility Workers Cutting Internet Connections, Power Outages, etc., and Cloud Computing” because this isn’t about Cloud Computing as much as it it a Data Availability issue.

I live in Florida, and while we don’t have a lot of earthquakes here, we do have tornadoes, hurricanes, lightning, utility workers cutting Internet connections and iguana’s falling on power lines (seriously…I am not making that one up.  If you don’t believe me, email me off-line and I’ll give you the details).  When I worked in on the Data Availability side of the house I would always start hearing the buzz around this time of year.  “I need to get my data out of Florida because hurricane season is coming”.  When I would question them on what they wanted to do it was always about surviving the storm and recovering later.

Now before you think I am bashing the Public Cloud offering, let me assure you, I am not.  I use it myself actually.  I got rid of the servers inside of my home (my wife appreciates that) and I moved everything to the Cloud with one of the better know Cloud providers.  Nothing at all wrong with that because nothing I use personally is mission critical.  However, if it was, and data availability was the issue, I would need to ask my Cloud provider some questions to make sure I was not putting myself in a situation I could not recover from.

  1. Where is my data going to be located physically?
  2. Is there any redundancy in places that should the data center housing that Cloud go down that my data would be accessible at another data center?
  3. Is there any kind of backup of my Cloud servers, or is that up to me?

I would also want to make sure that I took proactive measures on my part to ensure that my data was protected and accessible , not the least of which is having more than one Internet carrier in my office.  If I am relying on Verizon (for example) and their network goes down, or if the utility company cuts the wires then I should hope that I have a second connection coming out of the building that was not impacted by that outage.

Looking back at the article about how Cloud services could be impacted by this event in Japan, if the above questions were asked and answered, and if the appropriate redundancies were in place, then I have no reason to worry about anything impacting me.  We have only to look at history to demonstrate that mother nature can create real issues for overseas communications such as the quake off Taiwan a few years ago that severed the cable connecting Asia with North America.  The incident alone caused an amazing amount of disruption, but it was resolved in a relatively short amount of time when the cable was put back together.

Cloud Computing is here, and it is already beginning to impact that way we do business.  But we need to make sure that we are taking the most appropriate actions to ensure that events like the Japanese quake don’t bring our business to a halt.  With proper planning and preventative measures there is no reason to have an outage in the Cloud do anything but cause a minor inconvenience.  Scaling operations using the Hybrid Cloud model are a great way to ensure that your business continues after events like the one in Japan.

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