While I was in Houston at the Community Summit, I heard a question about migrating to the cloud: “How will our business operate if we move our IT to the cloud and the Internet goes down?” Techies in the room rolled their eyes at what was to them a naive question. I could see that the business executive asking was sincere. It made me realize that some of your Board members might have the same concern. The short answer is “we got that covered,” but let me show you how:
You’re ALREADY Connected, Thus Vulnerable
Today’s businesses must be networked to function. Unless your entire firm fits into one building, where your customers and employees show up in person, and you hand them a product and they pay only in cash, you are part of many networks. You’re involved in the supply chain, payroll and benefits, payments, and e-commerce departments. Such business partners often operate far-flung networks that connect you, among many customers, to the services they provide. Most firms of any size don’t have their own IT gear at their HQ anyway.
If you’re smaller, your servers may be installed at a ‘co-location’ site. These sites involve a business that houses IT gear for clients. They provide power, security, network access, and often some kinds of technical support. If you’re a large enterprise, you may have your own facilities to house your computers. In either case, you already depend on reliable connections to your servers for ongoing operations.
Cloud Vendors Spend a Fortune to Maximize Availability
There’s a saying that “two is one and one is none”. That’s 100% true with IT equipment. When the things you depend on fail, you must always ask, “Where’s the backup?” If you run your own servers, you probably house them at one co-location site or at an in-house data center. You may often use a secondary site for ‘Disaster Recovery.’ Unless you’re very large or heavily regulated, you probably don’t buy and maintain lots of spare IT capacity — any more than you leave warehouses empty or production lines idle — just in case something breaks.
If you’re in a good co-location facility, they have excellent physical security, redundant power, and cooling as well as a generator and battery backup. There may even be multiple network connections. So, while your eggs are likely in one basket, it’s a pretty good basket! (A warning: while excellent security, cooling, and power are part of nearly every co-location contract, your IT folks usually decide how many networks your gear connects to and how fast each network will be).
Cloud vendors go far beyond most co-location firms. They operate global networks comprising dozens to hundreds of enormous data centers stuffed with gear. They connect together via many redundant networks. These data centers are constantly copying data around the network to minimize the impact of a data center, or even a regional disaster (think wildfire or hurricane).
Depending on what Cloud products you license, this kind of replication may or may not be automatic. If a process is critical to your business, be sure you understand what products you licensed. Most SaaS applications have very high redundancy. So, your business will still operate even if your cloud provider suffers outages to servers, data centers, and networks.
Modern SD-WANs are Very, Very Reliable
Once upon a time, your IT department ordered circuits from ‘Ma Bell,’ the monopoly phone company. It ran from point A to point B and carried data just for you. With an increasing need for more connections, technology evolved. Circuit-switched connections became packet-switched networks that carried data for many users. Then, they became part of the global Internet, carrying data from anywhere to anywhere. Since the internet came out of military research (ARPAnet), its design intended to survive accidental or deliberate outages.
The ‘Final Mile’ is the hard part of networking. It’s the connection from your home or office to the vast internet. Nowadays, it can even include the connection from your car, thermostat, or phone to the internet. The design of today’s final mile networks, known as SD-WANs (Software-Defined Wide-Area Networks), intend to keep up with current high data volumes and mobile environments.
The best SD-WANs can combine wireless cellular data (LTE & 5G) connections with wired network circuits to balance speed, cost, and access. This means that you may primarily use a fast, cheap, wired circuit between a branch office and the Internet, and then to the cloud. However, this may lead to automatic fail-over to a more costly and slower cellular connection in the event your primary circuit fails.
SD-WANs have been around for a decade, but customer adoption lags (often because the carrier knows your costs will likely drop). So, ask your CIO how modern their network is and why they chose what they did.
Communications Technology is About to Become Wildly Better
Who hasn’t heard about 5G? It’s here in many places and coming fast to more places. 5G improves network speed and reduces latency, which mostly matters when connecting real-time gear like surgical robots. As 5G replaces current LTE networks, fast wireless connections become available and wired circuits will be needed less. This increases flexibility. As innovative satellite networks roll out next year, such as SpaceX ‘Starlink’, devices anywhere on earth will get more fast, reliable connections.
So, there you have it: You need to be connected. You are connected. Cloud and modern communication technology can connect you better. Your job as a Board Director is, as always, to ask questions about the trade-offs IT has made and plans to make. But, moving from ‘on-premise’ to ‘hyper-scale cloud’ can increase your firm’s IT availability if your CIO makes reasonable choices.
- We will cover Disaster Recovery, and why your firm is likely horribly exposed, in a later column ↑