From the vault: Cloud computing can help you keep your business running in a disaster

This story first appeared March 7th, 2013.

Whether you’re a multinational giant or a one-man band, it’s important to play devil’s advocate and consider all the threats to your business.

You’ve got the usual suspects such as fire, flood and theft, but disasters come in all shapes and sizes. Something as mundane as a utility outage or a burst water main could bring your business to its knees.

Even if an insurance payout covers your losses, it might be too late to save the business from going under. It pays to have a Plan B ready to roll.

When you sit down and think about it, you’ll be surprised at how many single points of failure you find in your organisation. Is there one critical supplier or service provider on which you’re absolutely dependent? What if key staff quit unexpectedly or were hit by the proverbial bus?

Could you cope if you lost access to your premises and/or mission-critical equipment? Could you recover from catastrophic hardware failure and data loss?

With a bit of thought you’ll come up with a long list of ways to cripple your business with a single blow. It’s a conversation which should include key staff responsible for the day-to-day running of the business.

Now weigh up the likelihood and potential impact of the various threats and then consider what processes you can put in place to mitigate the risk and provide redundancy. Consider the costs as a form of insurance and weigh them against the potential cost of a disaster.

Depending on your type of business, there are several ways the cloud could come to your rescue if disaster struck. Many of them revolve around the idea of using the cloud as offsite backup as well as an enabler for working away from the office.

If your only data backups are stored on-premises then you’re setting yourself up for a fall.

Any disaster which claims your premises will most likely take your backups with it, so it’s vital to keep a copy in another physical location. Even if you regularly back up important data to disc or tape and store it offsite, it’s important to consider how much productivity would be lost by rolling back to last month’s backup – not to mention lost clients disgusted at your lack of preparedness.

While you’re at it, it might be worth assessing whether your key suppliers and service providers also offer Service Level Agreements and have a Plan B in place so you’re not left in the lurch if they suffer a disaster.

The beauty of online backups is that it’s easy to tailor backup schedules to match the importance of specific data – backing up some files once a month and others once an hour or even in real-time if required. If time is money for your business, such a backup system will help minimise the disruption and reduce losses should disaster strike. It may only need to save you once to pay for itself.

Storing a copy of your data online isn’t just useful in the event of data loss; it can also help you keep the business up and running if your premises are temporarily off limits, perhaps due to a natural disaster or security scare. At this point it’s worth investigating cloud-based Software as a Service for enabling key staff to work away from their desks. Also consider hosted services such as email and Voice over IP, making it easy to redirect your communications and set up temporary premises if required.

You might evaluate your cloud redundancy options as part of a wider mobility strategy designed to allow staff to remain productive when they’re away from the office. If you treat the cloud as a productivity booster rather than merely an insurance policy it can add to the bottom line rather than simply become another expense.

The loss of key staff in times of crisis is another significant threat to your business, but you can reduce the risk by implementing an “internal knowledge base” – basically a list of the critical business information required to keep things up and running.

Do you know what to do if your system administrator gets hit by a bus? Rather than resort to a ouija board to recover passwords, perhaps it’s time to put a Plan B in place. Make sure your internal knowledge base is secure, updated regularly and also backed up appropriately.

The cloud can certainly help you keep the lights on when disaster strikes, but ensure your cloud strategy doesn’t become a new single point of failure for your business. Make sure your Plan B also covers a disaster in the cloud.

David Hancock is the founder and managing director of national on-site computer repair and support company, Geeks2U. Founded in 2005 and with a team now over 300 strong, Geeks2U is one of the biggest Australian businesses of its kind.


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