The Cloud in a Time of Need

Arthur Cole

I know I'm not the only one who has qualms writing about data infrastructure in the wake of Japan's devastating earthquake.

And yet, if this disaster does have a silver lining, it's that much of that infrastructure seems to be largely intact, which should make it much easier for emergency crews, hospitals and engineers/technicians, to ease the immense suffering on the ground.

Much of the credit goes to the cloud, which even in its nascent state seems to have come through on one of its basic promises: the ability to shift data and resources away from critical damage zones. Nirvanix recently offered its customers free transfers from its Tokyo facility, which is still operating normally, to one of its other main centers in Los Angeles, New York, Dallas or Frankfurt, Germany. The goal is to provide peace of mind to organizations worried that data will be protected as the crisis unfolds.

With the epicenter of the quake some 200 miles from Tokyo, most of the city's main service providers have reported little or no problem maintaining operations over the past week. However, with the ever-worrisome nuclear crisis brewing in the north and rolling blackouts plaguing a still-fragile power grid, it shouldn't take much prodding to get CIOs to dust off their DR procedures, and to seriously consider a regional if not global backup system.

And that, frankly, is where the cloud excels. As PCWorld's Tony Bradley points out, the ability to move servers, applications and data over great distances with relative ease and, most importantly, continuity is invaluable when the unthinkable happens. Firms that want to save a few bucks by limiting themselves to local backup end up throwing their money away when both they and their provider are wiped out. Just make sure that your cloud provider has adequate mirroring capabilities as well, since disaster can strike anywhere at any time.

A prime example of a hard lesson learned is New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, said InformationWeek's Marianne McGee. At a time when medical services were needed most, many hospitals and other care providers saw their paper records turned to pulp and their electronic systems destroyed. One response in the ensuing clean-up was, a Web portal that provides secure, online access to pharmacy and other records for nearly a million residents. Sadly, the records last a mere 90 days, but it does go a long way toward preventing harmful drug interactions and other costly errors.

For Japan, solutions like these are very low on the list of priorities right now. But recovery will come eventually. And while it's unfortunate that people often go to great lengths to prepare for the disaster that has already occurred, it would be an even greater tragedy if we failed to heed today's lessons only to repeat the process at a later date.

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