Thursday, September 19, 2013

Contingency Planning and a Fallen Cloud

This week’s news of Nirvanix shutting down has sent the cloud storage world into a flurry.  In the wake of the carnage, service providers are positioning their storage offerings as the new data safe haven while customers are reeling with renewed issues of trust.  

What does the Nirvanix failure say about the industry?  Should we interpret this as a sign of the overall health of cloud storage?

With literally dozens of potential cloud storage offerings ranging from local MSPs to major infrastructure providers, consolidations and failures are inevitable.  Working with such a wide variety of providers, we’re seeing offerings that are runaway successes and others that are struggling to land a few customers.  One thing is certain: overall, the cloud storage market is rapidly growing and the Nirvanix failure just signals the end of the land grab and time for organizations to focus on maturing their offerings. 

Should customers have seen the writing on the wall?  Possibly, but looking for signs is a weak indicator in many situations.  Who would have foreseen Google shuttering its Google Reader service with millions of loyal customers?

So with future failures and consolidations being inevitable, what can customers do to protect themselves?

Some argue the only way to protect against cloud failures is to avoid cloud services.  I wholeheartedly disagree.  Whether organizations care to admit it or not, most cloud providers are far better at delivering their specific service reliably and more cost effectively than any individual organization.  After all, it is their core competency and the way they make money.  In most cases, “going it alone” leaves organizations with far more exposure for loss and at a much higher cost than trusting a service provider.

Cloud services are built on the mantra of “everything fails”.  Each component of the solution is analyzed in the event it is lost and contingencies for it are added.  Your adoption of cloud services should be the same: What are the parts of my cloud storage solution (storage provider, network, cloud gateway, etc.) and what happens when - not if - each component fails.  How do you recover?  What if that piece will never come back? 

All of these are solvable problems depending on your specific requirements and tolerances:
  1. Ask the hard questions of all providers that make up your storage solution – it’s not just about how your data will survive a technology failure, but also a business failure.
  2. Look for storage providers with physical Import/Export services.  FedEx and its competitors are the only multi-TB/s networks around, in case you need to make a rapid change.
  3. Know your migration options.
  4. Work with multiple storage providers or keep an internal copy of data
  5. Leverage gateway and other supporting technologies that do not lock you into proprietary data formats.
If this week’s news of Nirvanix has shown us anything, it is that cloud services can fail like any other service.  To plan for success, you must prepare for failure along the way.

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