We’ve gotten comfortable with online file storage. How about cloud computing? There is a definite trend in this direction, but it hasn’t taken off yet the way cloud storage has. There are strong indications that cloud computing will be just as popular as cloud storage in a few years.
Why is that? Some of the motivation to adopt cloud servers are the same as for cloud storage. The server in the sky is accessible from anywhere on any device. That’s a lot different from the legacy practice of going to where the computer is when you want to use it. Today we want our applications and our data available on desktops, laptops, notebooks, tablets and smartphones. The common denominators are the web browser and a wired or wireless broadband connection. Thanks to the proliferation of WiFi hotspots, it’s pretty easy to get connected away from the office even if you don’t have 3G or 4G capability on your device.
When it comes to backups, there’s another factor to consider that isn’t getting much attention yet. That is the speed of restoration when you lose your files. This factor could become the tipping point that moves everything to the cloud.
The problem becomes apparent when a local disaster completely destroys your facilities. This could be a tornado, hurricane, earthquake, wildfire, flood or something else that comes out of nowhere to engulf your business. If all you have is local computing and storage, you could be in a world of hurt for years. it’s not uncommon for businesses to fold once they realize that all their customer records, inventory, accounting and other files are unrecoverable. If you’ve been smart enough to add a remote backup service for your computer files, your electronic files will still be available. That’s the good news. The bad news is how long it takes to get them back.
One reason that moving files to the cloud is fast and easy is because we do it one or a few files at a time. Think about updating a website design or posting a YouTube video. These transfers go pretty fast. Your automatic backups are no annoyance, either. Most automated systems only transfer the files that have changed recently and they do it in the background. You may not even know a backup is going on. Corporate backup processes to remote data centers tend to run late at night when nobody is around.
Going up to the cloud is fast and easy. Coming back down may be easy but it is rarely fast. Let’s say that your old offices have been wiped off the face of the Earth. You set up new offices, buy some new computers get everything warmed up and ready to go. The only thing you need now is your original files so you can pick up where you left off. You log into your cloud backup service and start the recovery process. Have a cup of coffee while you wait. It could take a little while.
Two large cans of coffee and a week later, your files are still downloading. What? How can it possibly take so long? You’ve checked your T1 line and it is running at full speed like it always does. How can it take weeks to download a few electronic files?
Well, it’s not slow servers at the other end. It’s not your T1 line. It’s not your new computers. Everything is working just the way it should. What’s wrong is that your collection of files in the cloud is far, far larger than you ever thought possible. The files may upload in dribs and drabs, but they all have to come back at once. Those dribs and drabs happened every day over the course of a year or two, maybe many years. You’ve got Gigabytes, Terabytes, maybe Petabytes spinning on drives in the cloud data center.
Meanwhile, your T1 is downloading them at 1.5 Megabits per second. At 8 bits per byte, that’s a bit under 200 KB per second. It will be a week or two before you get the first hard drive’s worth of data back. It might be smarter to just pull down the files you need one at a time, as you need them, and let the full restore process run over night... for month or so.
Would a faster connection help? You bet it would. A 15 Mbps Ethernet over Copper line will move things along 10x as fast. A OC-3 fiber optic line at 155 Mbps would boost the file transfers another order of magnitude. Clearly, if you want fast transfers to and from the cloud, you are going to need a fiber optic link and the faster, the better.
Here’s another approach. You set up that new office, boot your brand new computers and log into your cloud service provider via your favorite web browser. You won’t even be able to lift that coffee cup to your lips before your entire software suite and all files are available. Oh, look. There’s your old desktop just as you left it when you ran for the tornado shelter.
How is this possible? It’s because you are running your business on virtual servers in the same cloud where your files are stored. Your local computers are only needed for access. In a pinch, you could take your laptop or tablet to a coffee shop or hotel and work out of there until you have new a new office. You don’t need massive bandwidth because all the heavy lifting is done in the cloud. You just need enough speed to access the system and get data in and out as needed.
OK. You’re probably wondering what happens if disaster strikes the cloud, right? That’s certainly possible. It will take a bigger disaster to wipe out the cloud because those data centers are built with redundancies on top of redundancies. The best way to protect against this is to have your data backed up in a different data center than where it normally resides. Some cloud providers can set this up for you. The backup and recovery process will be a lot speedier than downloading to your office because the data centers are tied together with very high speed fiber optic line services.
Should you consider running your businesses processes on cloud servers or at least doing remote backups to the cloud? If you are at all concerned about business continuity, it makes a lot of sense. Get competitive quotes for cloud computing and storage solutions and see how affordable this might be for your size business.