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Cloud's worst-case scenario: What to do if your provider goes belly up

The best time to prepare for getting data out of the cloud is before you put it in there

By , Network World
January 08, 2014 06:50 PM ET

Network World - Last September customers of storage provider Nirvanix got what could be worst-case scenario news for a cloud user: The company was going out of business and they had to get data out, fast.

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Customers scrambled to transfer data from Nirvanix’s facilities to other cloud providers or back on to their own premises. “Some folks made it, others didn’t,” says Kent Christensen, a consultant at Datalink, which helped a handful of clients move data out of the now-defunct cloud provider.

Nirvanix wasn’t the first, and it likely will not be the last cloud provider to go belly up. Megacloud, a provider of free and paid online storage without warning or explanation suddenly went dark two months after Nirvanix’s bombshell dropped. Other companies have phased out products they once offered customers for cloud storage: Symantec’s Backup, for example is no longer being sold by the company.

More could be on the way: An analyst at Gartner’s data center conference late last year predicted that one in four cloud providers will be acquired or forced out of business by the end of next year, mostly though merger and acquisition activity.

With all these changes happening in the fast-moving cloud industry, it begs the question: What should users do if their worse-case scenario actually happens and their public IaaS cloud goes dark?

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At the most basic level, preparing for your cloud provider to go out of business should start before you even actually use the cloud, says Ahmar Abbas, vice president of global services for DISYS, an IT consultancy. DISYS helps companies create a cloud strategy, and one of the first things to plan before going into the cloud is how to get the data out, at any time. “It all goes back to how businesses historically plan for disaster recovery,” says Abbas.

Typically DISYS will work with customers to classify the applications and data that are being placed in the public cloud and rank them based on criticality to the business. High-value data and applications that are mission critical need the highest levels of availability and are treated differently from low-value data that and organization can live without for a certain period of time. If a business is running a core enterprise app in the cloud that is crucial to the company’s daily operations, it should have a live copy of that app in another location, be it another cloud provider or on the company’s own premises, Abbas says. For testing materials perhaps there backup once a month, or maybe even not at all.

It all goes back to how businesses historically plan for disaster recovery.

There are other common sense steps users can take. First and foremost, be smart about who you choose to work with. “If you pick an Amazon or an IBM, then the chances of a severe event happening are much diminished,” he says. “They’re not going out of business any time soon.” Just going with a big-name provider isn’t a panacea though. Amazon Web Services and just about every cloud provider has outages and service disruptions, so customers should always prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

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