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Cloud Enablement & Operations

Earthquakes? Vacations? Always On: Highly Available Data

How long can your business survive without your data? What data, you ask? We’ll get back to that in a minute.

How long can your business survive if your people can’t access the internet? How long can you go without cable or satellite TV at home, especially in football season or <insert your sport here>?

How long can you go without a mobile phone signal, where you can’t text, call or browse with your BB/Android/iPhone?

Recently, I  “survived” an earthquake near DC, where I live, and I was not able to access the internet, call my wife at work or on her mobile phone (she has AT&T, I have Verizon), or use my home phone (Comcast) or my work phone (Cisco IP phone, connected via the cable broadband service). That outage lasted just a short while (an hour, maybe), but it disrupted my personal life and my work life. I was on a conference call that did not get dropped, with people in three different states up and down the Eastern Seaboard, and we all got to share in my personal earthquake experience as I ran out of the house with my kids and dogs and waited for the earthquake to end. Businesses and many government agencies closed (did you notice?), traffic was snarled, and communications and data access were disrupted. More than an inconvenience, this cost some serious money, but the data and communications infrastructure rebounded very quickly, thanks to some serious data availability planning and design.

I just got back from vacation on Cape Cod, near Falmouth, probably 100 miles as the seagull flies from downtown Boston. I had a cell signal at my rented cottage, but it was so weak (probably 2G) that I could not use my cellular modem (Verizon MiFi Access Point – great product, rush out and get one!) to access the internet! Disaster! Calamity! Frustration! I waited 15 minutes for Google to load! Well, you say, you were on vacation, so get over it. Sorry, I had to approve time cards and expense reports. I had to download & evaluate some data to help a team meet a deadline for a consulting engagement, which could not be viewed on my BlackBerry – something that would have taken 10 minutes total back in the connected world, but was impossible for me. I had to drive to town to find a Starbucks (actually used the free broadband at the public library) to do this seemingly simple task.

Do you see where we are headed? We have to be plugged in, at home and at work. What can you do about the cable company, or the backhoe operator that just cut the cable? Not much. What can you do about terrible phone reception, or no service at all? Not much. What can you do about making sure that your customers can always access your business on the Internet, and your employees can always access their applications and data? Quite a bit, actually.

So, back to my first question: What kinds of data have to be “always on” for your customers and your business? Do you know? I’ll wait while you think it over…

Done? OK, now how will you make sure that this is highly available data and applications? What has to be done to your computing, storage and networking infrastructure to keep your business running? Back in the twentieth century, the answers were quite a bit different, and if you didn’t have a million dollar budget, you couldn’t really make sure that your business was accessible even if the power went out at corporate headquarters. Oh, you could protect the data from loss and corruption, but no one could access it from “outside.” Clustering, mirroring, replication, tape backup, generators – do these solutions sound familiar? What about moving your computing and storage infrastructure to a hosted or collocation data center? Expensive and painful, this solution was out of reach for many, and all applications couldn’t be accessed this way.

So, what about the Journey to the Cloud? Will this take care of it? Can you do disaster recovery to the Cloud, so that if your datacenter is cut off, you can failover to a virtual infrastructure, if only for a short while? Is this possible? Is it affordable? If it is, and you can do it and it works, then…why are you in the business of building and running a datacenter at your headquarters?

Stay tuned for the answers to these and other questions, and some possible solutions, with “Disaster Recovery in the Cloud”!