The Emerging Cloud Computing NOCBy Sonny Discini
May 20, 2010
For decades we've seen continuity of operations (COOPs) with designs and procedures referencing a secondary location. A backup site is a location where an organization can easily relocate following a disaster, such as fire, flood, terrorist threat or other disruptive event. This is an integral part of the disaster recovery plan and wider business continuity planning of an organization.
I remember seeing the costs associated with building and maintaining a hot site. I also remember the staggering amount of secondary soft costs associated with maintaining this site. Knowing full well that budgets can no longer sustain these expenditures, is it time to look at a fresh new way of implementing a backup site?
We've already mentioned hot sites, so let's begin there. A hot site is a duplicate of the original site of the organization, with full computer systems as well as near-complete backups of user data. Real-time synchronization between the two sites may be used to completely mirror the data environment of the original site using wide area network (WAN) links and specialized software.
But Can Cloud Services Meet These Needs?
Cloud vendors have already recognized the huge potential of hosting a virtual backup site for large enterprises. I have seen marketing slicks that give you the ability to map your current NOC and then make a one-to-one match to the cloud computing offering. In effect, the cloud vendor creates a virtual version of your NOC.
Legacy? No Problem!
The first question that usually comes up is related to legacy hardware, such as mainframes. IBM has already addressed this in its offerings, and several other vendors have IRMA3270 support in their service offerings as well. Your hot site will be a fully virtualizes creation of your current environment. This is especially attractive to government agencies and large financial customers that have a large investment in legacy systems.
A New Way of Thinking
Because hot sites are generally located in the same physical region, a large-scale disaster could render getting to the hot site impossible. Even worse, a disaster could impact the hot site and the business would certainly come to a halt.
With a cloud backup site, employees can connect to data from their homes or wherever they can find an Internet connection. They will not have to physically go to the hot site to engage in business. Of course, this will require a fresh new COOP procedure that addresses the new way of responding to such an event.
A NOC manager for a large government facility has this to say about his plans for a cloud backup site:
We've already mirrored a good part of our current production NOC operations into a test cloud hot backup site. We've estimated the costs of running the virtual cloud using figures from the cost of rack space (including rent), power consumption, hardware costs, employee costs, software licensing and bandwidth requirements. Of all the aforementioned, the only thing we had an increase in was the bandwidth cost and even with that, our overall savings comes into the 38 percent range. You just can't ignore those kinds of savings today.
When asked about any hang ups during the process, he said, "The process was very smooth overall, but we did have some issues with the initial seeding of data and replicated systems. It took a long time to get everything pushed out to the cloud, but once we got past that part of the process, things went smoothly."
Looking ahead even more, if your organization can move 100 percent of its NOC into the cloud, one could argue that there isn't even a need for a secondary site, saving the enterprise even larger sums of money. If this turns out to be a popular choice, the backup site as we know it today would be on its way to being found only in computing history books.
But be sure to still address the known pitfalls with any cloud offering. Understand the risk of the cloud vendor going under, and be sure you have the proper insurance policies in place. Don't forget the SLA because your virtual hot site is only as good as the bandwidth you have to get there.