Cloud computing is changing the way that companies, and even individuals, procure IT and IT-enabled services. It shouldn't come as any surprise that it is also set to change business continuity dramatically. One obvious change is in how business continuity is structured and delivered, with considerable benefits.
“An even more profound change is the fact that this new way of structuring business continuity will make it possible for capacity earmarked for business continuity to provide, in the ordinary course of events, subsidiary processing capacity,” says Justin Lord, general manager, Hosting Services, ContinuitySA. “This change radically repositions business continuity as part of the company's IT environment, and not as a standalone or dedicated facility.”
To really appreciate the magnitude of the change, it's worth reminding ourselves of the status quo. The typical business continuity scenario includes the hiring or purchase of server capacity in a dedicated business continuity data centre. This capacity is used only when disaster strikes, when the company's servers are rebuilt manually using back-up tapes.
“This is a process that works well, and has been proved time and again,” says Lord. “What's exciting is that the new approach of cloud computing provides a way for companies to refine the model further, and get even more benefit from their business continuity spend.”
The new approach advocated by Lord essentially builds on the well-established concept of buying infrastructure as a service (IaaS). Iaas allows a company to buy processing power from the cloud provider, which has vast server farms located around the world. It's a compelling value proposition because it delivers economies of scale instantly and does not require upfront investment.
Using this model at its simplest level, a company can purchase capacity in the business continuity provider's storage system, and replicate its data (via a secure network) into that protected environment. This data is thus available to the client almost immediately in the event of a disaster in the production environment — there is no need to transfer the physical back-up tapes to the recovery location and rebuild the server manually.
Wait... there's more
It's now possible to take this simple data-replication model a step further by allowing a company to subscribe to a dedicated resource pool of virtual server space, again provided as a service by the business continuity provider. In the event of a disaster, this would allow the client's server environment to be recreated remotely and largely automatically on this dedicated virtual server — in a matter of minutes rather than days.
When disaster does strike, this approach saves a great deal of time (and thus money). A basic prerequisite, of course, is the availability of sufficient bandwidth at a sufficiently low price.
“The potential saving of time and money during a disaster is clearly desirable, but what's really compelling is that this capacity is available to the client all the time, not just in a recovery situation,” Lord explains. “In other words, this virtualised business continuity capacity can be used for daily processing in the normal course of events. Infrastructure capacity rented for business continuity thus becomes an asset to the IT department, and can be used to reduce in-house capacity or extend it, whichever is most appropriate.”
The end result is that at least a portion of the disaster recovery budget can be incorporated into the general IT budget, something that hard-pressed CIOs and CFOs are likely to appreciate.
Lord says any business continuity strategy must be approached cautiously and rationally. He advises working with approved business continuity consulting or advisory teams to establish how to apply this new way of thinking to existing, well-tested plans. “If a move over to a hosted service seems indicated, then it would likely be phased,” Lord says. “As BlackBerry's woes showed us once again, business continuity is vital and must be implemented strategically.”