September 3, 2014

The Cloud Doesn’t Bite, Part I

September 3, 2014

Why it's OK to be a server hugger—a cloud server hugger.

By now, you probably understand the cloud enough to know what it is and does. Maybe it's something you've even considered for your own business. But you're still not sold. You still have nagging concerns. You still have questions that you wish you could ask, but you're pretty sure no cloud company would dignify those questions with an honest, legitimate response.

Well we’re a cloud company, and we’ll answer those questions.

Inspired by a highly illuminating (!) thread on Slashdot about the video embedded below, we've noticed that some of you aren't ready to get your head caught up in the cloud just yet. And that's cool. But let's see if maybe we can put a few of those fears to rest right now.

"I'm worried about cloud services going down or disappearing, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it."

Let's just get one thing straight here: we're human, and the devices and infrastructures and networks we create are fallible. They're intelligent and groundbreaking and mind-boggling, but they are—like us—susceptible to bad things and prone to error at any given time.

But it's not the end of the world if or when it happens. Your cloud service provider has solutions. And so do you.

First, be smart about who you choose to work with. The larger, more reputable a company you select, the less likely you are to experience outages or outright disappearances. It's the nature of the beast—the big guys aren't going out of business any time soon. And if the worst should happen, they're not going down without a fight for your precious data.

Most outages end up being mere temporary blips that generally don’t last long. It'd take a major disaster (think hurricane or zombie apocalypse) to take any cloud-based platform out for more than a few hours. Which, of course, sounds like a long time, but we're talking worst case scenario here. And in the event of a zombie apocalypse, you probably have bigger fish to fry anyway.

But the buck doesn't stop there. Moving data to the cloud doesn't mean you get to kick up your heels, and set cruise control. (You don't really want that anyway, and you know it.) Be proactive. Know your service-level agreements, and make sure your system structures are built in a way that you're not losing out when it comes to outages and downtime. Know your provider's plan for redundancy. Know what monitoring systems are in place. Identify which applications and data are critical and should be treated differently in the event of a worst case scenario. Have a plan in the event of doomsday. You wouldn't go head first into sharknado season without a strategy for what to do if disaster hits, right? Why would the (unlikely) downfall of your data be any different?

Remember when we backed things up to external hard drives; before we'd ever heard of that network in the sky (a quaint concept, we know)? Well, we think it would behoove you to have a backup of what's essential to you and your business.

In fact, being realistic about technology these days is paramount. We can't prevent failure because we know better. According to Microsoft's chief reliability strategist, David Bills, "It's about designing resilient services in which inevitable failures have a minimal effect on service availability and functionality."

In any event, don't panic. You think you're freaking out about the cloud going down? Chances are, your provider is one step ahead of you already.

"Most of the time you don't find out about the cloud host's deficiencies until far too late." "One cloud company I had a personal Linux server with got hit with a DOS attack, and their response was to ignore their customer service email and phone for almost a week while trying to clean it up.”

Uh. Call us crazy, but we're guessing that company's no longer around—just a hunch.

We cloud infrastructure providers don't exactly pride ourselves on hoarding your data and then being completely inaccessible to you. Do your research on potential providers. Find out how easy it is (or difficult as the case may be) to get a hold of your customer service team. Make sure your potential provider's customer support meets your business needs. Make sure there's extra expertise available to you if you need personal attention or a little TLC. Make sure those response times are to your liking. Make sure those methods of contact are diverse enough and align with the way you do work.

We know you don't want to need us, but when you do need us, we are here for you.

"Of course, you have to either provide backup yourself, or routinely hard-verify the cloud provider's backup scheme. And you'd better have a backup-backup offsite recovery contract for when the cloud provider announces it can't really recover (e.g. Hurricane Sandy). And a super-backup-backup plan in case the cloud provider disappears with no forwarding address or has all its servers confiscated by DHS."

Hey, you don't have to have any of these things if your data's not that important to you. But if you'd have backups of your local servers, why wouldn't you have backups of anything you put in the cloud?

We thought so.

Nota bene: Sounds like you might want to take up some of this beef with Hurricane Sandy.

Stay tuned for part two where we tackle accountability, security, and buying ourselves new yachts.

- Fayza