Monday, November 19, 2012

Hurricane Sandy and Disaster Recovery: Cloud to the rescue?

When looking at the aftermath of hurricane Sandy, the most important aspect of the event is the toll it has had on the people. The Atlantic puts the total impact in terms of dollars at $60 billion, with death toll at 123 people. However, those that survived face the challenges brought about by the flooding and living without power for weeks. For example, 4 million remained without power for extended period of time. This of course challenged individuals to keep their frozen food cold and live without technology for that period of time. As for companies, their disaster recovery plans were put to the test. Perhaps the most poignant example was the New York University Langone Medical Center who had to evacuate patients because their backup generators because they were located in the basements, which got flooded. Hospital officials defended their preparedness  but critics pointed out that the backup power generators "are not state-of-the-art".

Samara Lynn of PC Magazine published an article on how Sandy taught organizations valuable lessons from a Disaster Recovery (DR) perspective (she previously painstakingly put together a 4 part series for small and medium sized businesses on DR planning; see here, here, here, and here). Before I read the article, I was expecting a bulleted list of dos and don'ts when it comes DR planning. But what I was surprised to find is that companies are relying on cloud computing service providers to make up for the unavailability of local processing. Examples include:
  • A New York Architectural firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro used Amazon Web Services (AWS) to relocate the company's core applications, enabling users with the proper license configuration to access these applications right from their laptops. Also, the IT Manager, Chris Donnell, used AWS as a remote desktop during the disaster. (I encourage you to read the whole article as it details how Chris was in the middle of an email migration from Outlook to Gmail when Sandy hit; poor guy!). The company also used Panzura to store the data temporarily in the cloud.
  • Ring Central, a cloud-based pbx hosting service, (they sponsor TWIET and other podcasts on the TWIT network) was able to relocate their operations away from the storm. More importantly, they offer near instant recovery of phone support by plugging in a piece of hardware they can "bring in a live extension under 10 minutes". Naturally, there is an increased interest in Ring Central by those that were satisfied with the lengthy recovery times of their providers. 
The article also discusses how a service provider made DR as part of IT outsourcing service and how the key to DR is backup power. 

Although not related directly to cloud, one of the most amazing story that I've heard is how SquareSpace (SQS) kept it's platform up and running. Like the hospital, SQS had its back up generator in the basement and that got flooded. It published this blog post to inform customers of what was happening. However, the real interesting story is the lengths that team went to ensure the site stayed up and running. The team physically took fuel from the basement to the generator of the roof going up 17 flights of stair

Even more amazing was that the founder and CEO, Anthony Casalena, personally helped in this effort. Talk about Tone at the Top

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