Most providers of cloud computing services expect that Hurricane Irene will wind up being a boon for cloud computing services. After all, nothing demonstrates the need to be able to access remote servers better than massive flooding and a loss of power that prevents people from returning to work.
In fact, Vineet Jain, CEO of Egnyte, a provider of file services in the cloud, argues there's no real reason to run file servers locally anymore. As more of those file servers are moved onto virtual machines, Jain says it will become more apparent that the physical location of the file server is not going to be all that relevant. As such, there's no real reason to put your file servers in harm's way when your files can easily be geographically distributed across the cloud.
It may take a few more weeks for businesses affected by the storm to start wrapping their minds around that concept, assuming many of them are still in business. The simple fact is that the ability of the public utilities to respond to this crisis has been dismal. Hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses up and down the East Coast are still without power, and just about every backup and recovery plan put in place by these businesses pretty much assumed they would have access to some form of power.
No doubt it's a massive undertaking to replace all the downed lines, but it's also pretty apparent that given all the crews standing around waiting for some piece of equipment or some person with a particular expertise to arrive, the emergency response plans of the public utilities are pretty much designed to handle a couple of isolated incidents. It's also pretty apparent that in terms of making sure those lines are not too close to trees, the public utilities have been asleep at the wheel. No doubt there will be plenty of government bodies inquiring about exactly what happened, with officials from utilities claiming poverty and blaming union work rules. But the simple fact of the matter is that there are thousands of single points of failure throughout the power system and there is no rhyme or reason to how the utilities companies manage the crews needed to restore power, which is why it can take three or more days to restore a simple power line even in a heavily populated area. When you get right down to it, a huge part of the problem, despite claims to the contrary, comes down to a lack of fundamental management on the part of the utility companies. The business lesson to be learned from this is that public utilities can't be counted on in any kind of major emergency.
In the meantime, a lot of frustrated business owners will not only be looking into the cloud, but also the merits of buying a generator. When you get right down to it, every piece of IT equipment, no matter how close or how far, is useless if you don't have access to a device that can access it. Of course, they could move their people to another location that has access to power, but most of them probably didn't count on having to do that. Besides, when most of their customers are in the local area without power, it's hard for business owners to get too excited about powering up IT systems to services customers that are not coming anyway.
Things will eventually return to normal, but the question is how many businesses will actually return. About one-fourth of businesses that get hit by a disaster never open their doors again, and in this fragile economy that number is going to be a lot higher in the wake of Hurricane Irene. That may mean the real cost of Hurricane Irene will need to be tallied for months to come.