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Cloud Computing: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

As I sat in my car, stuck in Houston traffic, I looked around and saw many other people stuck in a similar situation – frustrated, impatient, and banging their heads against the wheel. How easy would it be to never go into work, avoid traffic, and just stay at home or work at a local coffee shop all day? More companies are adapting to working remotely, and collaborating from home is increasingly easier… thanks to the Cloud.

What’s the Point of Cloud Computing?

For an example of why a company would switch to cloud computing, I need look no further than my own backyard.

The Strategic CFO started out as a service company, doing business through face-to-face consulting. We were one of the first in the market as a consulting firm for CFOs. Eventually, that market was flooded with competitors who offered similar, if not more services. Although we have developed additional services over the years, we have recently begun allocating more of our budget on the web and cloud technology, rather than spending money on a big office to support a more traditional model of business.

Long gone are the days where it is necessary for a company to have an office in order to be “in business.”

Technological luddites who aren’t quick enough to accept technology as the market is shifting may see their overhead skyrocket and may even find themselves in financial crisis. Having been in this industry for over 25 years, I’ve found this to be a common issue in many companies.

Cloud Computing Benefits

Cloud computing helps companies cut long-term costs. There are many advantages to being part of the cloud, such as no need for office space, more storage, flexible availability, and ultimately tracking Key Performance Indicators easier.

Telecommuting vs. Office Space

As mentioned, some businesses don’t operate in an office. Instead, many businesses are experimenting with telecommuting (or “working remotely”) and foregoing their expensive office rent. I once had a client who was entirely virtual – I never even met the person. For all I know, that client could have been working in their pajama pants!

Previously, we spent thousands of dollars a month in rent, yet we were rarely in the office because we were interacting with clients in their offices or via the web. That was when we knew we had to get rid of this expense. The decision to switch from the office to telecommuting using the cloud saved us easily around $40,000 a year. That budget was then allocated to other areas in our company that were growing. Reallocating liquid assets has helped us be more flexible and able to shift with the market.

Less Hardware, More Storage

In the early days of computing, data was stored on huge supercomputers that were virtually impossible to move. This made it difficult to share information or work on projects that contained a lot of data.

Now, there are many platforms to store, create, and share data. Apps such as Quickbooks and InfusionSoft perform services that were previously performed on computers and hard drives.  By working in the cloud, a company can easily expand their ability to store information. Some companies even offer unlimited storage with a subscription package – an industry that was started as a direct result of cloud technology.  Even better, these companies will back up your data nightly – a practice often neglected by many businesses.

Anywhere, Anytime Availability

Another benefit of cloud computing is the availability of information from any location, and on any platform of technology. Like we mentioned earlier, the cloud allows for global collaboration and minimal miscommunication. As long as you have an internet connection, team members can access the same information from anywhere.  This can lead to huge leaps in productivity.

This contrasts greatly from traditional companies, where you have to ask multiple different people for data and do a lot of number crunching because the data varies. For entrepreneurial companies, this transparency is a blessing gift-wrapped and presented beautifully. For large corporations, this could be a security disaster. Thankfully, this “anywhere, anytime availability” can be controlled to reduce security risks while still improving productivity.

Eight years ago, Hurricane Ike made landfall in Houston, TX. It’s been estimated that 2.8 to 4.5 million people were without power – including our offices (where our standalone server containing all of our client files lived).  All but a couple of consultants had power at their homes, but couldn’t log into the server because our office had no power.  Had we been in the cloud, my employees could have logged on from their homes and stayed productive despite Mother Nature’s wrath.

Track the KPIs of your business

With cloud technology, it is also easier to track the KPIs of your customers and employees – hence, your overall business. CRM (customer relationship management) systems such as HubSpot, SalesForce, and InfusionSoft track the activity of both your customers and your employees, and analyze the data in real-time.

How does this help track KPIs? Well, for one, software can perform services that traditional companies need to gather multiple pieces of information from the employees quickly, analyze the numbers, and then make the reports.

Secondly, the data is communicated universally across the organization and is more accurate.

Finally, with faster number-crunching, you can more quickly resolve issues and grow your business.

Is your company having issues tracking (or even identifying) your KPIs? Download your free KPI Discovery Cheatsheet today by clicking here.

Disadvantages of Cloud Computing

With any type of technology, there are bound to be issues. Some of these disadvantages can be so problematic that they scare more people away than they bring in. The important thing is to analyze whether the benefits outweigh the risks

Integrating the change with your employees

On-boarding employees is a critical step that you have to undertake unless you want to risk high employee turnover. Likewise, implementing a new system calls for your company being responsible for on-boarding and training employees to to use it.

Integrating change with your employees will generally result in one of two outcomes: everyone embraces change or everyone sees change as evil so they’ve nailed their feet to the ground.

Security

When considering switching to the cloud, the biggest question you hear is “what about security?” Having all important documents and resources in hard copy form seems like the better alternative for some people; but when you think about it, the security issues with hard copies and the cloud are similar.

If the office catches on fire and you don’t have any backups, you find yourself in a bit of a situation. Likewise, cloud computing requires backups and continual updates to structure your system in a way that it becomes more and more difficult for the bad guy (or fire in the physical world) to hack into your system.

Technical Issues

Security isn’t the only issue to consider when switching to a cloud environment.  Sometimes, honest mistakes can occur that can cause setbacks. Occasionally, I and many others in my network mistakenly delete something without making a backup. Thankfully, we have not found ourselves in too much of a pinch as a result of our haste; but that’s not to say that technical issues can’t severely hurt a company.

Like it or not, cloud computing is probably here to stay.  It’s a powerful tool to not only save the costs associated with storing and accessing data, but can result in huge productivity gains due to greater access to information.  The improvement you can see in these key indicators might itself be enough justification to make the switch. 

Want help determining what key indicators you should be watching?  Download our KPI Discovery Cheatsheet here.

Cloud Computing Benefits

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Cloud Computing Benefits

 

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Backup and Recovery Technologies

See Also:
How to Evaluate IT Systems
How to Choose a Software Dealer
Technology Strategy for Small to Medium Sized Companies
How to Ensure Redundant Data Communications Links
How do You Know When it is Time to Buy New Software

Backup and Recovery Technologies

Backup and Recovery Technologies are complete solutions designed to reduce any server down time with the use of a specialized back up and virtual server appliance. They allow near real-time backups-as frequent as every 15 minutes. In addition, they offer offsite storage at an affordable cost. They also provide a low cost, speedy disaster recovery process. Data is encrypted. So it is not accessible to anyone, either on the backup device or at the remote storage facility without a required passkey. Finally, it eliminates the need to assign a data custodian to change tapes as well as the cost and hassle of managing an on-site tape backup solution. Your IT department or resource monitors and manages the entire process.

Executive Summary

A recent study discovered that, of companies experiencing a major loss of data, 43 percent never reopened, 51 percent closed within two years of the loss, and a mere 6 percent survived over the long-term.1 For small and medium-sized businesses, these statistics suggest the necessity of implementing a robust data backup and recovery technologies solution. Loss of data could mean lost emails, accounting data loss, patient or client data loss, loss of legal records, lost orders, and so on. This document will discuss how a data backup and disaster recovery solution overcomes challenges that are commonly faced by small and medium businesses.

Traditional Solutions vs. Emerging Technology

dMagnetic tape and disks are the two leading media for data backup storage. While magnetic tape is currently dominant, analyst Dave Russell of Gartner believes that “Recovery will move to online disk-based storage in the future. This will cause a major shift in the backup market during the next four to five years.”2

Disk

Smaller companies in particular will benefit from the shift, as recent advances in design and manufacturing lower the total cost of disk-based storage in terms of storage per bit. Falling prices, combined with the various performance advantages that storage industry analysts cite, render disk increasingly attractive. Gartner Group highlights the suitability of disk for these organizations by explaining that, “The need for high-performance online recovery of data, combined with the availability of low-cost disk arrays, has influenced enterprises and small and midsize businesses to adopt a disk-based approach for backup and recovery.”3

Tape

Tape, in contrast to disk, is physically delicate. It is also easily compromised by environmental factors such as heat, humidity, and magnetic interference. Moreover, tape cartridges must be replaced frequently (every 6-12 months). Tape’s innate sensitivity contributes to high failure rates; analysts estimate that anywhere from 42 to 71 percent of tape restores fail. Even when magnetic tape backups are successful, tapes themselves are subject to loss or theft. They may be in the possession of an employee or vendor unable to reach a recovery site. Thus, even when physical backup and restoration processes succeed, tape may not prove to be as timely and appropriate a medium for data storage as disk. Time is a crucial consideration… Because each hour of server, application, and network downtime endured until data restoration comes at a high cost, especially to smaller businesses.

Disk vs. Tape

Analyst Jon Oltsik of Enterprise Strategy Group also points out that tape is seldom encrypted, compounding the destructive impact of tape theft. He says that, “Very few people encrypt backup tapes, which means that they rely on the security of the backup and off-site rotation process.”4 Magnetic tape encryption, unlike disk encryption, has historically been too costly for all but large enterprises: “Encryption of any data that is leaving the security of the data center, in transit, has always been an option, unfortunately, a very expensive option,” explains Clipper Group.5

Disk offers not only lower cost encryption but also other advantages. In contrast to tape, “disks are more durable, last longer, withstand more overwriting and you don’t need to clean any heads,” according to Rinku Tyagi of PCQuest. Additionally, “When it comes to backing up using disks, they are easier to manage. Disk backup systems include management tools, often browser-based, for you to easily configure settings and check status from anywhere.”6

HP enumerates other advantages of disk storage, noting that “Data is backed up to disk much faster than tape, which translates to less impact on production server availability. Disk is also a more reliable media than tape and less prone to error, which translates to less failed recoveries.”7 Clipper Group believes that the superior speed of disk storage is an enduring advantage: “High performance disk will always be the choice for online applications that require fast access.”8

Conclusion

While disk offers advantages over tape, it is not a panacea. After installing disk technology, companies will still be responsible for monitoring and managing backup processes, encrypting and safeguarding backed up onsite and offsite data, restoring data to new hardware, and other functions. Without implementing a layer of governance over disk-based data backup, these companies court the danger of failed backups and delayed restoration of data, thereby jeopardizing their chances of successful recovery from major data loss.

Smaller companies unable or unwilling to invest in the human expertise and infrastructure support systems necessary for management of their backup system can leverage a data backup and recovery solution to remove staffing burdens.

Total Backups Solutions Now Available to the SMB

Near Real Time Backups

“Incremental Forever” methodology captures all changes to the initial image in increments of as often as 15 minutes. The Incremental Forever technology not only backs up recent datasets but also allows end users to reconstruct the state of their data as it stood at the end of various restoration points over the last two days, various days over the last two weeks, various weeks over the last month, or various months since the implementation of the latest in backup technology. This level of forensic and auditable data recovery may satisfy various regulatory requirements (such as HIPAA and GLBA) for data retention and data record reconstruction, and also serves stakeholders such as supply chain planners, warehouse analysts, auditors, and legal counsel.

A Complete Image

This technology generates an image of all hard drive partitions via an agent, which is warehoused on the backup device physically located at your location. The data is stored AES-256 bit encrypted and compressed, reaching efficiencies as high as 2:1. A block-level, not file-level, backup is recommended, which means that data is captured at the level of 1s and 0s. Block level data is raw data which does not have a file structure imposed on it. Database applications such as Microsoft SQL Server and Microsoft Exchange Server transfer data in blocks. Block transfer is the most efficient way to write to disk and is much less prone to errors such as those that result from file-level backups. Additionally, block level backups are not affected by open files or open databases. The block-level image is an exact digital duplicate of the on-site server.

Intuitive and Flexible Restoration

A good backup system should allow for quick and flexible restores. Today’s solutions allow for recovery of files, folders, partitions, mailboxes/messages, databases/tables using a quick and intuitive process. In case of a complete server failure, this new technology allows for a bare metal restore to new hardware which has a different configuration, hardware and drivers as compared to the failed server. Doing incremental based backup allows restores from several points in time. Thus, you can restore multiple versions of files, folders, messages/mailboxes, database/tables.

Secure Remote Storage

After imaging the servers to which it is attached, the backup device then creates an independent 256-bit encrypted tunnel. It then transmits the imaged data to two secure offsite locations where it resides in an encrypted, compressed format creating a total of three copies of the data in three geographically distinct regions. Since you have encrypted the data, no one has access at any of the remote storage facilities.

Transmitting data to remote sites guarantees that, in case of physical damage to the client’s network or backup device, or even regional disaster, the data is safe in uncompromised locations. Encryption is an important step in the process of transmitting data between the backup device and the remote sites. It greatly reduces the risk of data loss incidents that plague magnetic tape. In addition, it prevents man-in-the-middle attacks during transmission. Nothing or no one has ever broken the 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) algorithm. It is also currently considered the gold standard of encryption techniques. And they render transmitted data immune to theft.

On-Site Virtual Server

If any of your servers fail, then the server virtualization technology embedded in the backup device restores and reboots servers and applications within a couple of hours. You may sometimes endure a wait of several days in order to receive replacement servers from vendors. But your backup device can have your business up and running while waiting on a replacement server. The backup device multitasks. Even while functioning as a virtual server, it can continue to back up data from other devices plugged into the device. The technology thus allows you to remain in business without any significant loss of data backup, server functionality, or application downtime.

Bandwidth Throttling Transfer

Transmission itself occurs over your Internet connection. You can easily configure it to minimize bandwidth consumption. Today’s device leverages Adaptive Bandwidth Throttling, which only utilizes unused bandwidth or allows us to set an outbound limit. The UDP based smart transfer technology utilizes a host of innovative algorithms to speed up data transport and resume from failure. The device can therefore exercise file control over the data imaging and transmission processes.

24/7 Managed Solution

Monitor the device by the Network Operations Center 24x7x365. Failed processes generate immediate alerts to engineers, who often remotely correct errors after receiving notification. In case of more serious backup issues, conduct repairs at your site. If any backup units are irreparably damaged or destroyed, then they will ship you replacements pre-loaded with all stored data.

Affordable

These devices today are extremely affordable, and are available with offsite storage for as little as $1.50 per GB.

Don’t let your computers be an area of weakness in your company. Check out our free Internal Analysis whitepaper to assist your leadership decisions as your enhance your strengths and resolve your weaknesses.

backup and recovery technologies
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backup and recovery technologies

 

Resources

1 Cummings, Maeve; Haag, Stephen; and McCubbrey, Donald. 2003. Management information systems for the information age

2 Russell, Dave. 2007. Gartner Group. Recovery will move to disk-based, manager of managers approach by 2011

3 Russell, Dave. 2007. Gartner Group. Recovery will move to disk-based, manager of managers approach by 2011

4 Jon Oltsik, quoted in Shread, Paul. 2005. Internetnews.com. Bank’s tape loss puts spotlight on backup practices

5 Reine, David. 2007. Clipper Group. Security for small data centers—right-sizing tape encryption

6 Tyagi, Rinku. 2006. PCQuest. What’s for your backup: Disk or tape?

7 HP 2007. HP proLiant dl100 g2 data protection storage server—questions & answers

8 Reine, David. 2007. Clipper Group. Security for small data centers—right-sizing tape encryption

 

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