Being prepared for when the cloud REALLY fails

Cloud services are bound to fail. Some failures will be momentary. Others may be far more serious. What's important is that you're prepared.

Everything works well in the cloud, until it doesn't.

Consider the Microsoft so-called "Leap year" bug that crippled that company's Azure cloud services last month. Bill Laing, vice president for Microsoft's server and cloud division, described the system failure in a blog post and said that Microsoft will overhaul its disaster recovery efforts, as well as other aspects of the business.

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Fortunately, in this case, services were restored and the outage was (relatively) short-lived.

Nonetheless, it's a certain reminder of how things can -- and will -- go wrong in cloud services and that each organization is responsible for their own business continuity.

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Until recently, that was a concern of David Wellington, IT specialist at TAPS.org. Since 1994, TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) has offered support to more than 35,000 surviving family members of fallen U.S. servicemen and women with casualty assistance officers and military chaplains. As TAPS moved increasingly to cloud-based services, it wanted to make sure it had reliable access to its data -- even if the cloud services provider went down.

About a year ago, TAPS began moving away from its on-premise productivity and office software to Google's Gmail and Google Apps. "We were relying on our own services and virtual private networks, but it was clunky and sometimes the connection simply didn't work. Switching to cloud services made sense and is easier for our people to use," says Wellington.

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"We want all of our employees, wherever they are, whenever they need it, to be able to access the information they need. We also wanted to know that it's backed-up, so that we're always ready to help family members and serve those survivors," he says.

Having access to their data "no matter what" meant having backups that were not reliant on the cloud services provider itself being available. While it may seem strange, at first, backing up applications and data that are in the cloud -- where service providers are widely expected to take care of backups and security for their customers -- Wellington and TAPs aren't taking any chances.

To back up their cloud-based data, TAPS turned to startup Backupify, a provider of cloud-based data archiving, search and restore services for online services such as Google Apps, and social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Late last month, Backupify also released its Snapshot for Salesforce, which saves a copy of one's Salesforce backup on Backupify servers and also provides the ability to download the Salesforce.com data for onsite backup.

Wellington and TAPS aren't the only businesses concerned about ensuring they have access (that isn't provider dependent) to their cloud data. According to Ben Thomas, vice president of product and security at Backupify, the company has more than 300,000 accounts for approximately 2,000 business customers and they protect approximately 250 TB of data.

"We wanted to be certain, even if someone accidentally hit delete, that our information is always there. That it's always backed up. Today we know there's a copy on Google. We know that it's backed up on Backupify systems, and we have local copies. We always know that data is going to be safe," says Wellington.

That goes to show one thing: While cloud computing is more convenient and (in many cases) more cost effective -- it's certainly not without many of the same concerns as traditional computing systems.

George V. Hulme writes about security and technology from his home in Minneapolis. You can also find him tweeting about those topics on Twitter @georgevhulme.

This story, "Being prepared for when the cloud REALLY fails" was originally published by CSO.

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