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How Hurricane Sandy Forced IT Professionals to Rethink Cloud Computing

November 28, 2012

Rebuilding the East Coast after Superstorm Sandy on Oct. 30 will be an expensive proposition… New estimates of the cost of the storm now reaches about $30 billion in “economical loss,” according to the NY Governor's office. And just protecting New York City from future disasters through the use of barriers would add on about $15 billion. And the number of deaths continue to rise with the latest estimates at 113 overall— 42 deaths in New York alone— according to the official report at CNN. 

For businesses small and large, devastation arrived in the same breath. Knocking out Internet server infrastructures, power supplies, and caused a collapse of communication channels. Major data centers suffered considerable impact and many Web services were grounded for days.

As the storm was coming ashore along the New Jersey and New York waterside, there were reports of major cables getting disconnected and flooded data facilities in lower Manhattan.

While all the region's businesses and major industries were having problems, Verizon Communications, which serves many of the states in the hurricanes path, suffered some of the worst damages. Customers experienced a loss of all services, including FIOS (voice, Internet and Video).

As the storm went on it became clear from numerous website outages, including large NYC-server based sites like Gawker, Buzzfeed, Huffington Post and others that data services were being severely interrupted from the storm. At least one of them (Buzzfeed) was successful in moving all of its Web data needs into the cloud to Amazon Services.

Some say great pilots earn their entire salary on one dangerous flight a year. If you're serious about your server infrastructure and your online business, then perhaps the same could be said about good IT professionals. When your IT guy starts to talk seriously about the need for data services in the cloud, now may be the best time to listen.

Small business owners should look to prepare for storms and disasters when it comes to cloud connectivity. In cloud computing, this is how a public cloud service works. Many companies offer their code, data, and policies in consuming a cloud service. In turn, the cloud center can provide a service that delivers Web functionality to companies to provide business value. And, as a business owner, you should look to verify your address with QAS for best customer practices regarding mail practices, especially in disaster environments or storm-related scenarios.

Many wondered after Hurricane Sandy why so many New York companies had servers on the island, and not in other parts of the country. For instance, one commenter suggested that if a company was looking for cheap power rates, and a lot of bandwidth, then Northern Virginia was the place to look.

West Coasters were touting Las Vegas and San Jose as best location scenarios, again with cheap power and high bandwidth.

Using cloud-based server infrastructures can help companies in future storm and disaster-related scenarios. Cloud Tech writes about some reasons how cloud data centers helped reduce the negative impact of Hurricane Sandy. These included:

1. Unlike data centers situated in basements, cloud server farms are built with disaster recovery in mind and made to withstand stormy weather conditions. Because of this built-in infrastructure, cloud data centers have emergency plans for disaster and storm events like flood, fire, or hurricanes. This is a distinguishing characteristic of cloud centers versus on-premise data centers.

2. With adequate notices from weather professionals, cloud data center providers had enough time to prepare. There was time to get backup generators in operation in case of outages. Data centers were offering customers before the storm the opportunity to move data to geographically distant centers, away from the Superstorm.

3. Cloud centers are able to backup data even in disasters without too much worry about losing the data. Chances are minimal that cloud providers would lose any data in cloud centers, even in major storms like Hurricane Sandy.

All this preparation by IT professional with data centers should also include a discussion on how the role of IT is changing in companies as well. In a series on how IT should matter in companies, writer James Urquhart suggests that the role of IT infrastructure within companies is now available to anyone who wants it. He writes: “Add to that the variety of innovative software tools and services that have evolved thanks to the Internet, open source and the new economics of cloud computing, and developers are finding utility services a much more palatable option than internal IT for many classes of application development and deployment."

More practical examples of how cloud data centers can work in a storm situation came from a lower Manhattan based financial services marketing consultancy. The President of Cognito Media wrote in Forbes about the business lessons learned while working through Hurricane Sandy. From staffing his team with laptops before the storm, to booking hotel rooms uptown for his team members, to switching to its UK server for email connectivity in the company; the company's leaders moved through the storm with best intentions to stay connected, but even some instances their best efforts failed.

Baseline Magazine offers up top tips for business owners and IT professionals facing disruptions in business or connectivity between work teams and departments as a result of storms like Hurricane Sandy.

  • Know Your Infrastructure: IT teams should have an outline and a map for all critical factors in integrated systems
  • Have an Emergency Power Source: If power goes out in your area, what's your backup plan?
  • Spread out your Internet Connections: The goal is to stay online with multiple Internet connections and a combination of fiber, cable, T1, cloud, and other ways.
  • Communication & Business Continuity: It's vital in a storm or disaster that IT teammates can communicate. Use cloud servers, phone trees, instant messaging, if possible, and more.
  • Guard Against Security Breaches: Make sure that your security is tight after a storm or disaster. There may be weak links in a company's firewall in a hurry to get back online. Be careful to do it right.

Using these guidelines and knowledge from IT pros and business owners can help you, if and when you're faced with a similar storm or disaster-related scenario in the future.

Tags: Internet Security, cloud computing, Productivity,

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