Avoid the pitfalls of disaster recovery in the Cloud: 6 keys

The fallout from Hurricane Sandy probably has many companies rethinking their disaster recovery plans. One key question: Can IT trust cloud computing services for their disaster plans? 

Developing a proper disaster recovery plan is a big challenge for organizations, especially smaller businesses — when there’s barely room in the IT budget to cover everything the company needs for normal operations, it’s hard to find money to allocate for incidents that hopefully never happen.

But unfortunately, as some businesses may have learned after Hurricane Sandy slammed the East Coast, natural and man-made disasters can have huge, costly consequences, including network downtime and lost data.

Smaller incidents, too, can have a big impact. In fact, more than half (52%) of businesses have experienced unplanned downtime at least once over the past year, according to a recent survey from Paragon Software.

To stay prepared on a limited budget, many businesses are turning to cloud computing services for their disaster recovery planning. A fully effective disaster recovery plan requires having duplicate versions of critical hardware, applications and data. Instead of paying for all of the infrastructure that’s necessary, many companies are turning to cloud-based disaster recovery services that store copies of applications and data on an external site.

Right now, 20% of companies are using cloud computing for disaster recovery, according to a recent survey from TechTarget. But 31% say plan to start using a cloud-based disaster recovery service within the next six months.

In addition to lower costs, cloud-based disaster recovery services can also offer faster recovery times and greater reliability, since cloud contracts typically requires the vendor to regularly test the service.

Disaster recovery pitfalls remain

Of course, disaster recovery in the Cloud isn’t as simple as signing up for a service and forgetting about it. If not planned properly, a cloud-based disaster recovery plan can end up being little more than a sunk cost once it’s really needed.

Here are some steps businesses can take to avoid the pitfalls of disaster recovery in the Cloud:

  1. Don’t take anything for granted — Before signing up for a disaster recovery service, make sure you know exactly what is covered by the Service Level Agreement (SLA). For example, how quickly does the vendor promise to have recovery operations running, and what penalties will be applied if the promise isn’t met?
  2. Get clear on costs — Many cloud-based disaster recovery services charge a regular subscription for back-op operations, and then additional fees when there’s a disaster and recovery is required. That keeps the company from spending too much when the service isn’t needed, but it can cause confusion if costs aren’t thoroughly researched.
  3. Watch out for interdependent applications — When only backing up certain critical applications, run tests to make sure they can run when they’re removed from other applications that aren’t being backed up.
  4. Avoid conflicts with other customers — Some disaster recovery vendors oversell their services, assuming that not every customer will have a disaster at the same time. To avoid potential conflicts, find out what vendors do to make sure they have enough resources for everyone. Also, get an idea of the geography of the other customers — hopefully, the customer base will be spread out so those conflicts are unlikely in the first place.
  5. Keep geography in mind — Make sure the facility housing the back-ups isn’t close enough to be affect by the same incidents as the company.
  6. Don’t assume perfect reliability — Disaster recovery vendors should test their services, but before companies sign up they should verify how those tests are conducted and how often.

Of course, businesses must do a fair amount of due diligence when choosing any type of cloud computing service provider. For help, read our 21-point checklist for moving to the Cloud.

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