A Definitive List of the Business Benefits of Cloud Computing – Part 3

Uploading files on cloud service

Strengthens business continuity/disaster recovery capabilities

Today’s business landscape calls for companies to have reliable business continuity and disaster recovery capabilities. After all, when the system goes down, customers and even employees would rarely ask ‘why‘ or ‘what happened‘ but instead go directly to the ‘how soon can we get back up‘ part.

So unless they’ve been struck by the same unforeseen disaster your business is also experiencing, a couple of hours downtime is plenty enough for most of these people. What’s worse is when they simply don’t wait until they get access again and just go to other providers that can offer the same services. In short, your inability to provide continuous IT and business services could translate to lost opportunities which your competition would only be too willing to gain. And that’s not even counting the possibility of losing essential data and other potential negative impact that critical IT failure can bring about.

The answer to avoiding such a scenario is of course, having a sound business continuity and disaster recovery plan in place. But this is actually easier said than done.

Traditionally, setting up a business continuity plan entailed some tedious procedures in addition to very costly infrastructure. We’re talking here about acquiring and maintaining practically a replication of the hardware infrastructure and environments currently existing for business-critical systems and data. Note that these mirror systems should be set-up, housed, and maintained in a remote facility or location.

Making the deployment even more complex is the constant need to update the data in storage as well as keep software applications in sync between the system in use and the one on standby mode. This process would involve the physical transfer of data and syncing of applications, which is cumbersome and again, expensive.

While large enterprises would not even think twice about having to spend so much to ensure that operations would never come to a grinding halt, most small and mid-sized organisations would not have the required financial means for them to even start considering this option. Often, the bulk of their disaster recovery plan would simply consist of some tape backups, and a lot of hoping that they would never have to suffer from any outage or IT failure.

But all that can be changed with the arrival of cloud computing.

A cloud strategy offers an affordable solution for business continuity and disaster recovery for SMBs with limited resources and even big companies trying to minimise expenses by looking for alternative options.

A reliable service provider would already have the required infrastructure and software vital to a viable BC/DR plan and complete with the appropriate security measures. Organisations need not spend upfront for these facilities, but get to benefit from having updated data backup and a virtualised mirror system that would allow them to quickly get back up in the event of an outage or catastrophic disaster.

When looking to the cloud for a cost-effective BC/DR plan however, it’s worth keeping in mind that not all cloud providers are created equal. That’s why businesses also have many important factors to take into account before signing cloud contracts.

Yes, provision for continuity and and taking necessary precautions against outages are inherent in the cloud service itself, but you’d be surprised how many of these providers don’t actually take responsibility for service interruption. To give organisations some assurance of the cloud company’s capacity for continued service, contracts should stipulate availability guarantees and liability for downtime that the provider is willing to answer for.

Once these relevant issues are ironed out however, it’s easy for business to see how cloud-based data storage and computing can significantly lower the costs involved for SMB BC/DR while greatly improving efficiency, mobility, and collaboration capabilities.

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Without Desktop Virtualisation, you can’t attain True Business Continuity

Networking

Even if you’ve invested on virtualisation, off-site backup, redundancy, data replication, and other related technologies, I’m willing to bet your BC/DR program still lacks an important ingredient. I bet you’ve forgotten about your end users and their desktops.

Picture this. A major disaster strikes your city and brings your entire main site down. No problem. You’ve got all your data backed up on another site. You just need to connect to it and voila! you’ll be back up and running in no time.

Really?

Do you have PCs ready for your employees to use? Do those machines already have the necessary applications for working on your data? If you still have to install them, then that’s going to take a lot of precious time. When your users get a hold of those machines, will they be facing exactly the same interface that they’ve been used to?

If not, more time will be wasted as they try to familiarise themselves. By the time you’re able to declare “business as usual”, you’ll have lost customer confidence (or even customers themselves), missed business opportunities, and dropped potential earnings.

That’s not going to happen with desktop virtualisation.

The beauty of virtualisation

Virtualisation in general is a vital component in modern Business Continuity/Disaster Recovery strategies. For instance, by creating multiple copies of virtualised disks and implementing disk redundancy, your operations can continue even if a disk breaks down. Better yet, if you put copies on separate physical servers, then you can likewise continue even if a physical server breaks down.

You can take an even greater step by placing copies of those disks on an entirely separate geographical location so that if a disaster brings your entire main site down, you can still gain access to your data from the other site.

Because you’re essentially just dealing with files and not physical hardware, virtualisation makes the implementation of redundancy less costly, less tedious, greener, and more effective.

But virtualisation, when used for BC/DR, is mostly focused on the server side. As we’ve pointed out earlier in the article, server side BC/DR efforts are not enough. A significant share of business operations are also dependent on the client side.

Desktop virtualisation (DV) is very similar to server virtualisation. It comes with nearly the same kind of benefits too. That means, a virtualised desktop can be copied just like ordinary files. If you have a copy of a desktop, then you can easily use that if the active copy is destroyed.

In fact, if the PC on which the desktop is running becomes incapacitated, you can simply move to another machine, stream or install a copy of the virtualised desktop there, and get back into the action right away. If all your PCs are incapacitated after a disaster, rapid provisioning of your desktops will keep customers and stakeholders from waiting.

In addition to that, DV will enable your user interface to look like the one you had on your previous PC. This particular feature is actually very important to end users. You see, users normally have their own way of organising things on their desktops. The moment you put them in front of a desktop not their own, even if it has the same OS and the same set of applications, they’ll feel disoriented and won’t be able to perform optimally.

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IT Risk and Control Solutions Specialists – Why you need them more than ever

Risk management diagram

Over the years, the capabilities of IT systems have certainly grown by leaps and bounds. But so have the risks that accompany them. Countless threats to IT systems now exist that are capable of seriously disrupting business operations. That’s why companies have to conduct assessments aimed at making sure their systems are still capable of functioning effectively, efficiently, and securely all the time.

If you think you’ve been lucky enough to be spared from these threats, then maybe it’s because you haven’t conducted a risk assessment on your IT system recently. All too often, we hear of CIOs who believed their IT system was in tip-top condition, only to be later caught off-guard by a critical system breakdown that would eventually cripple their business for days or weeks.

More information assets to look after

If, before, you only had to worry about regular office applications, workstations, a LAN and a server, today’s varied and more sophisticated information assets are more challenging to maintain.

In addition to network operating systems, database management systems, content management systems, email systems, virtualization platforms, document management systems, business intelligence applications, and accounting software, a typical enterprise may also have to look after firewalls, intrusion detection systems, storage and backup systems, and data loss prevention systems, to mention a few.

These understandably require the services of experts spanning a wide range of skill sets.

Rising threats to corporate identity and privacy

Individuals are no longer just the ones being preyed upon by identity thieves. Businesses can now be subject to corporate identity theft as well. You could wake up one day finding your business already accused of carrying out illegal activities, a big chunk of your money gone, and your directors’ seats already occupied by complete strangers.

To make things worse, corporate threats aren’t just coming from the outside.

Threats to corporate privacy, for instance, can come from within the organisation itself. Sensitive information like trade secrets and financial data are often leaked out (purposely or inadvertently) by employees. This is largely caused by the ever growing number of options for communications and transferring data (e.g. emails, instant messaging, blogs, social networking sites, ftp, P2P, etc.).

Greater challenges in designing, developing, and implementing policies and programs

Laws and regulations like SOX and Solvency II, which have direct impacts on IT, are on the rise. That is why corporate policies and programs now require sweeping changes. You now have to be more deliberate in integrating IT when establishing governance, internal controls, change management, incident management, and performance management.

A solid understanding on widely accepted frameworks and good practices like COBIT, COSO, and CMMI will help you considerably in such undertakings. Using these frameworks as guidelines will not only help you keep your policies and programs attuned to the times, they will also keep you in compliance with regulations.

Increasing demand for disaster recovery and business continuity capabilities

Every time you have a down time, you increase the probability of losing your customers to competitors. The longer the down time, the greater that probability becomes. Therefore, when a major disruption strikes, you should be able to recover at the soonest. If possible, you should be able to deliver products and services as usual.

This of course requires spending to increase your disaster recovery (DR) and business continuity (BC) capabilities. Are you ready for it? Migrating your IT infrastructure from traditional systems to the latest technologies that are better equipped for BC/DR requires careful planning and implementation to ensure an optimal return on investment.

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