How the Cloud Democratizes and Complicates Disaster Recovery

When it comes to disaster recovery, the cloud is showing itself to be a mixed bag. CIO.com's Jeff Vance explains how the great shift in technology has both lowered the entry barriers for DR technology and given smaller businesses what could be a dangerous sense of false security.

By Jeff Vance
Wed, April 11, 2012

CIO — Cloud computing is slowly upending the disaster recovery market. Only a few years ago, disaster recovery meant one of two things: For large organizations, it necessitated huge capital investments; for the mid-market on down, it meant backing up only the most important data to tape and shuffling it off to a secure location.

Actually, there's a third thing. For many organizations, even today, disaster recovery (DR) means doing the bare minimum, crossing your fingers and hoping for the best.

The cloud is changing all of that. On one hand, it is democratizing DR, making it affordable for even SMBs to sign up for DR services. On the other, the disruption is causing confusion, often giving companies a false sense of security and luring them into bad decisions.

An SMB can take advantage of such free or cheap services as Dropbox, Box or SkyDrive, and many can confidently (and not incorrectly) say that this is a sufficient DR plan. In fact, what most organizations don't realize is that part of their DR plan are the evolving habits of knowledge workers, mirroring what many SMBs are doing for DR.

As knowledge workers become ever more mobile and rely on a growing array of mobile devices, they constantly move critical information out of corporate data stores and into their personal, cloud-based storage simply to make that data accessible from anywhere on any device.

There are problems with this approach, obviously, but it means that if a disaster strikes, your sales team will likely have a customer list it can access. Public relations pros will have key press contacts at their fingertips, and developers will simply access their latest projects in the cloud, where they probably already had been.

What should be obvious to you by now is that even if you are wary of the cloud for DR purposes, you are already deeply entangled in cloud-based DR through your tech-savvy employees.

The Danger in Laissez-Faire DR

Before you breathe a sigh of relief, thinking you're more DR-ready than you'd previously imagined, remember that this laissez-faire DR may work out when you're hit by run-of-the-mill outages, such as a brief power blackout, but if a real disaster hits, you could still be in deep trouble.

"When I lived in Florida, my organization had to rebound after a hurricane. We learned quickly about the things we hadn't planned for but should have," says Daniel Neufeld, vice president of information systems for long-term care provider Leisureworld Senior Care.

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