There’s an aura of invincibility about many cloud providers. Maybe it has something to do with the word ‘cloud’ – a big thing that keeps sailing along in the sky no matter what happens. But cloud provider failures or closures still happen. One of the latest to announce that the doors would be shutting was Dell concerning its online DataSafe backup service. Granted, the IT vendor was gracious enough to announce a year of wriggle-room for customers to migrate to another service (like Dell’s own Backup and Recovery service, the business-oriented counterpart of DataSafe). Customers of other providers have not been so fortunate.
A Shock to the System
Dell’s advance warning of a year still makes it look like one of the good guys compared to others. Nirvanix crashed in 2013, giving customers just two weeks’ notice to rehouse their online data. That left those who had been using Nirvanix for primary backups scrambling to find an alternative. Others who had been using the provider for secondary backups wondered what guarantees they would get that their confidential data would be securely erased. In the end, the company reached an agreement with IBM to allow customers to move over to new backup services.
What If There Was No Advance Warning?
In theory, cloud providers are too well replicated between data centers for an online backup service to just stop. There are exceptions as the well-publicized cases of Amazon and Microsoft outages demonstrate. But after a few hours (or a couple of days), customers recovered access to their data. It would take a catastrophe of huge proportions to really bring things to a halt. It’s not impossible, but simply improbable. However, Nirvanix and to some extent Dell, Symantec, HP and Iron Mountain all point to the possibility that a service you thought would go on forever can stop. Contracts and service level agreements may provide some level of safeguard or at least managed shutdown. That said, larger, longer-standing companies may be better able to honor such commitments than newer start-ups.
Looking Out for Danger Signs
The overall size of the provider is a factor determining its staying power. Cloud computing is capital intensive for providers because they must finance the initial installation of systems, software and networking. Companies like Amazon have shown they not only have the resources to stay in the game, but are also aggressive enough to drive prices down and squeeze other weaker competitors out. A second factor is the relative importance of cloud storage to the overall revenue of the company. Cloud storage and backup were only a small part of the revenues of Symantec, HP and Iron Mountain. They could afford to shut down a cloud operation (notwithstanding possible impact on their brand image) and carry on with their other business as normal.
What’s the Solution?
It’s good to have a back-up solution for your back-up solution. In other words, make sure that you can migrate as quickly and easily as possible if you have to. Ensure that your provider cannot hinder your departure, even if it doesn’t feel motivated to help you leave. Get solid guarantees before you sign up that all remaining copies of your data will be destroyed after you go. These are good practices to follow in any case. Sometimes the provider remains operational, but you may want to move on for other reasons. So expect the best, plan for the worst and stay alert just in case.