We live in a microwave culture. I use this phrase often when discussing business needs with clients, especially in the context of leveraging technology to address those needs. Sometimes I will get a puzzled look, other times I will get some head nods in agreement and understanding. When I use this phrase, I am talking about how the microwave has affected our culture from an end-user expectation perspective. There is an expectation of getting what I want when I want it, and an immediacy built into that expectation. The microwave turned hours into minutes, and minutes into seconds. There tends to be very little patience for waiting for something, whether it be food, service, or technology. When discussing business needs and the underlying technologies supporting those needs, end-user expectations and perceptions must be taken into account.
One area where these perceptions and expectations have an impact is when discussing Business Continuity Planning (BCP). Many end-users have the expectation (valid or not) that any application and information they need access to is available all the time, no matter what the situation. Many business users have the expectation that just by leveraging the latest technologies, such as cloud, that the technology will make BCP happen automatically. Those that have read my blogs in the past know what I am going to say next.
No Technology Negates the Need for Good Design and Planning
Cloud technology is a tool. Like any tool, it can do many useful things to help you achieve a purpose. I can use a hammer to help build a house, but if I don’t have plans and designs on what that house will look like, the hammer is not much use. Can cloud help in your BCP? Quite possibly. There are many features and capabilities available in cloud technologies that can be beneficial in BCP. Let’s take a look at some of the features that could be leveraged depending on your BCP needs and goals.
Resiliency, Handling Small Interruptions and Failures
A common goal in BCP is that the system be resilient, which means it can vary based on your business requirements. A simplification from a business perspective would be, “I want my system to keep running if there are any small interruptions in the process flows.” From a technology perspective, this could range from a transient network interruption, to the loss of any single piece of hardware with no or minimal interruption. Cloud infrastructure can help provide a platform for building a more resilient application. Public cloud providers can offer an easy way to have multiple instances of your system, even dispersing them geographically to allow for resilience to outages in certain areas. However, this resilience does not come automatically; your application needs to be designed to take advantage of the capability. Some of the design points to consider:
- Statelessness – Designing services to be stateless can help leverage the horizontal scalability provided by cloud infrastructure. If any single server is interrupted, a single service call is all that fails. The next call will go to another available server.
- Retry – Plan for small interruptions by building retry mechanisms into the service calls. This in combination with statelessness can increase your ability to leverage the resiliency provided by the cloud infrastructure.
Recovery, Dealing With the Larger Failures
When you have large, catastrophic failures, resiliency will not be enough and disaster recovery plans need to kick in. In the past, disaster recovery sites could be an expensive cost of doing business, such as having a second site location that sits idle in case of a disaster. The classic scenario involved restoring backups to the disaster location and bringing it up and online. Public clouds provide a much more cost effective alternative. With the ability to spin up new instances at any location quickly, and only being charged when they are activated, the cost factor of maintaining a disaster site drops dramatically. Depending on how quickly the business requirement is for recovery (as always, it’s about the business, not the technology), one could even have a small, warm backup operating. Should a disaster happen, scale up the warm site and activate, again, providing significant cost savings during normal operation, but providing a quick disaster recovery should the need arise.
So is Cloud the Answer?
In the every changing world of technology disruption and customer expectations, cloud can be a powerful tool to help deal with the microwave culture we now live in. Is it the right tool? In classic fashion, the answer is ‘it depends’. You need to identify what the business requirements are related to BCP, and perform the appropriate analysis to determine if the cloud is the right tool for your systems and applications. Everything is a tradeoff, and you need to determine what the right balance is based on your business, your customer needs and expectations, and determining the right tools to achieve the outcome desired.
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