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Insuring Your Business Against Cloud Service Availability

How to protect your service from cloud providers who shut down or go offline

Symantec last week announced that its cloud-based backup storage service, Exec.cloud, is winding down and the service will not be available to new customers moving forward. As for existing customers, the service will be available for a year's time. The announcement is seen to be a part of Symantec's reassessment of its cloud strategy and is therefore not likely to greatly impact the revenues of the $7 billion company. It is however an uncomfortable scenario for the thousands of Symantec customers who relied on Exec.Cloud for their backup storage options. These customers have to start the process of evaluating alternative products one more time.

Service availability as a parameter is not just about the server uptime levels of the cloud provider. It is also about how long serving the solution can be to the customers. In earlier times when options were limited and barriers to entry were high, there were simply a handful of service providers for most of the technology requirements. This helped businesses establish a "pay and forget" mechanism of dealing with service providers. Today, with cloud having brought down the barrier to entry as well as lowering the overall cost of the service, there are dozens of alternatives to every business requirement. According to Canadian business communications provider AllStream, the global spending on public cloud services is expected to hit $100 billion by 2016. Given the cut-throat level of competition and the ever-changing market dynamics, the ability of a service provider to sustain its operations over a sustained period has come under scrutiny many times in recent years.

Here are some examples from the past year: Early last month, IBM announced the shut down of its cloud computing platform, SmartCloud. Earlier, one of IBM's storage partner Nirvanix had filed for bankruptcy and had announced a winding down of operations with immediate effect. MegaCloud and GoDaddy Cloud Server are two other cloud based services that closed in the past 12-14 months.

There are two parameters I routintely take into consideration while evaluating alternatives - One, is the product/service a core competency of the company selling them? Secondly, how big is the parent company in terms of revenue or category ranking? These are important albeit secondary level considerations while evaluating the product. A service like Exec.Cloud is not core to the operations of Symantec. Similarly, Nirvanix is a company that had persistent management issues having hired around 6 CEOs in a 5 year period. By weighing these parameters against these companies, one may have opted for an alternate provider in the first place. Although to be fair, businesses that picked these providers for cloud services did not have the benefit of retrospection that I have now.

It is difficult to anticipate such failures from the service provider all the time. One way to protect your business from the availability and reliability related issues of cloud service providers is to invest in what is called a "cloud of clouds". This is a network scenario where cloud based service providers integrate their platform with one another to build a topography that is seamless and works as a single entity for all purposes relating to data and infrastructure. Such a network protects the end user (the enterprise clients) from any outage or service closure of the provider.

One of the companies that is working on such a solution is IBM. The popular infrastructure provider is working on a "cloud of clouds" product that will provide users with a drag-and-drop interface to enable data migration between any two cloud providers. Besides making data available at all times, IBM says that such a service will also prevent vendor lock-in and serve customers better.

Such services are still in infancy and it will be a while before the technology matures. However, until then, businesses need to perform due diligence of the alternatives to ensure the provider you sign up with does not shut shop or go offline. What are the backup options your business has to insure against such mishaps? Please share it in the comments.

More Stories By Harry Trott

Harry Trott is an IT consultant from Perth, WA. He is currently working on a long term project in Bangalore, India. Harry has over 7 years of work experience on cloud and networking based projects. He is also working on a SaaS based startup which is currently in stealth mode.