To avoid becoming a cloud service refugee your best solution is contingency planning at the time (or before) you commit to the service provider. Get agreement with the provider in advance especially on how you can access your data on your own in the event of problems.
On Oct. 1, Nirvanix, a well regarded cloud storage provider, filed for bankruptcy protection leaving its customers scrambling to find someplace to put the data they had entrusted to the company. This does not appear to be an unmitigated disaster for any of its customers but it could have. Let it serve as a cautionary alert for companies considering cloud computing.
As this blogger has written numerous times in wiredFINANCE, here and here most recently, it is not a question of whether you move to the cloud but when and which services you use. Over time cloud computing will become a component of your IT and business strategy.
Still, many executives remain nervous about cloud computing. They fear their data being exposed to hackers or other bad guys. Of course, their data was exposed to the same bad guys the moment they opened their systems to the Internet a decade or more ago, and their IT group is probably no better at security, and most likely worse, than any competent cloud provider. In recent years cloud providers have gotten pretty good at fending off bad guys.
So if security shouldn’t be your worry anymore, what should? Three things come immediately to mind:
The industry in the form of various consortiums is working on the interoperability and standards issue and making some progress. Network interruptions and system crashes are a fact of life, whether you are talking about you own on-premise systems or the cloud. For critical services, you need contingency plans.
In the case of the third worry—the failure of a provider—again your solution is contingency planning. But you want to address this possibility at the time (or before) you commit to the service provider. This blog, on multiple occasions, has encouraged readers to get agreement with the provider in advance on how you can access your data on your own in the event of problems.
Even with financially sound providers, you may want to change service providers for any variety of reasons and will want to pull your data back. You don’t want to suddenly find that you need to follow some obscure, proprietary protocol. You want your data accessible in the most vanilla way even if the provider used proprietary formats to deliver the services you wanted. No problem, as long as the data can be easily converted back or a copy is maintained in a widely accessible format.
This is not a new issue. Any time you commit to proprietary technology, such as Oracle or SAP or any number of other popular technologies and platforms, you need to know before you start how you will get your data back in a form you can use. Remember, your data is your valuable asset here.
In the case of Nirvanix, some customers were using the storage for third level backup. They could easily redirect those backups to another provider and later direct Nirvanix to delete their now outdated data right there. Customers storing active primary data could move it another service provider. However, it is not easy, fast, or cheap to move large volumes of data. Moving hundreds of terabytes of data is not a trivial undertaking. According to published reports, at least there were no Nirvanix customers who had petabytes of data stored there; that would have been a headache orders of magnitude greater. Finally, a number of customers wisely retained copies of their data on their own storage or with other storage providers. For those customers, this was a minor inconvenience. In addition, Nirvanix made arrangements for alternative providers with similar services, including IBM, Amazon S3, Google Storage, and Microsoft Azure, to be ready to receive their storage refugees.
So, don’t become a cloud refugee. Make your contingency plans at the start of the cloud provider relationship and ensure you have a way out, preferably in writing.