Get back on your feet with the cloud

The cloud can do a lot more for our SMBs than cuts costs, provided they tune into its potential as a disaster-aversion and business continuity tool.

Almost half of Australian’s two million small to medium businesses aren’t using cloud computing or its in-house IT equivalent, server virtualisation. That’s a key finding of the 2012 Symantec Disaster Preparedness Survey, a study released this week which surveyed 100 small and medium businesses in Australia and New Zealand, among a global sample of more than 2,000 SMBs.

The survey also shows that by turning their back on the cloud and virtualisation, small businesses are depriving themselves of powerful tools that could help ameliorate natural disasters or other sources of business interruption.

Such incidents are worth protecting against: the survey found that IT outages create a perfect storm for business as costs go up because extra labour is needed to set things right, but productivity and revenue fall. That’s a textbook case of costs going up and revenues going down that rings alarm bells for any business, yet many nonetheless fail to prepare for outages.

According to the survey, only 45 per cent have a formal plan to help recover from a disaster, 40 per cent back up their main data sources less than once a week and just 43 per cent have a plan to work on another site, should their main office become unavailable.

Those responses are concerning, given that businesses know disasters are heading their way: 36 per cent experienced at least one power outage in the year before the survey. Many also reported floods, storms and other incidents are either a concern or something that affected their business. Overall, the survey found the average Australasian small business experienced five outages, each lasting three hours, during 2011.

Cloud computing could make those outages less severe, by reducing reliance dependence on-site IT. Yet 52 per cent of the SMBs surveyed said they are not using cloud computing and don’t plan to. Just 28 per cent were either implementing cloud solutions or running them. Six per cent don’t know what cloud is. Nor were 67 per cent of businesses using virtualisation, a common disaster preparedness technique which removes applications’ dependence on physical servers and makes it far easier to recover from disasters.

The levels of virtualisation and cloud adoption in Australasian businesses highlighted in the survey represent a missed opportunity for two reasons, the first of which is that both offer ways to save money. The second is that both can help businesses to get back on their feet after a disaster, as the survey also found:

  • 66 per cent of respondents who adopted virtualisation reported a positive impact on their ability to bounce back from a disaster
  • 36 per cent reported the same benefit came from use of cloud technologies
  • 30 per cent said mobile technology helped their ability to recover from disasters

It’s not hard to understand how these technologies deliver. By removing the need for duplicate and replica hardware, virtualisation allows applications to run on almost any server. That means faster recovery times. Cloud services’ key differentiator is their operation within ultra-reliable data centres which, thanks to economies of scale, are far more robust than facilities that an SMB could ever hope to build and operate. Mobility frees business from reliance on single premises and extends business processes into the field.

Those benefits, and positive experiences reported in the survey, lead Symantec to recommend small businesses increase familiarity with these three key technologies, and then deploy them in a four-step plan to improve disaster-readiness.

The four points of the plan are:

  1. Start planning now: Develop a disaster preparedness plan today and consider how mobility, virtualisation and cloud can help in those efforts. Start by making sure your mobile devices are backed up regularly!
  2. Implement strategic technologies: Adopt integrated cloud backup for offsite storage and disaster recovery, so you can access data from mobile devices and get back to work before your office is ready for re-occupation. Back up physical servers into “virtual machines” that can be quickly redeployed on any server, so you can overcome destruction of key computers without having to replace them with identical equipment or go through a configuration process.
  3. Protect your information: Use comprehensive security and backup solutions to protect your physical, virtual and mobile systems. You may even opt to backup to the cloud.
  4. Review and test your disaster preparedness: Don’t create a plan and then leave it in a bottom drawer to gather dust. Instead, ask your team to review and test the disaster preparedness plan every quarter.

If Australasian small businesses familiarise themselves with mobility, cloud and virtualisation, they’ll be better-placed to cope with disasters and therefore less likely to fall victim to the crunch that comes from higher costs and lower revenues.

Australasian businesses need to have a serious think about the cloud in the coming months. Most cloud messaging has, until now, emphasised cost and flexibility. If businesses also tune into its potential as a disaster-aversion and business continuity tool, they’ll put themselves in a stronger position to survive whatever the business climate – in all senses of the word – throws at them.

Keith Buckley is the director, Pacific region, of Symantec.cloud

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