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Living in the age of outage

Collection of screenshots of news headlines regarding websites being hit by service outages

Many small business owners are reluctant to put their data in the cloud, fearing security breaches, data loss, and system-wide outages.

How can you prepare or prevent this?

You can’t completely prevent it, but you can prepare for it.

The stock prices of companies like or NetSuite are a clear indication that businesses are moving to “the cloud” at an increasing rate.  Some businesses who hosted their sites with Squarespace experienced an outage when Hurricane Sandy battered the East Coast. Something within their infrastructure failed which meant thousands of hosted web sites were unavailable. GoDaddy had a similar and much wider-spread outage around a month earlier. And scores of other software-as-a-service companies were down because of being housed in a single building near New York.

You can’t prevent hurricanes. But businesses who host their services in the cloud can invest in tools for redundancy, so that an outage at a single facility doesn’t take them entirely down. Here are 3 things you CAN do to minimize the disruption of impact to you if you are using a cloud service:

1) expect it. Many IT people read about hosting company outages during Hurricane Sandy and likely chuckled “nice one, guys, way to load balance those servers” – because a natural disaster is EXACTLY what a hosted business should be preparing for, building contingency plans. So if you’re not surprised and can move forward, you’ll be less emotionally impacted by an outage.

2) do your homework. You don’t have to be a computer science major to ask a sales person “in how many locations do you house your servers?” or “what service level guarantees do you provide and what recourse do I have if your site(s) are unavailable?” – if a service is housed in a single colocation facility, then you’re going to need to hope that they don’t have any natural disasters nearby.

3) hedge your bets – if you’re on Gmail, keep a LOCAL copy of all of your mail on your computer. If Gmail is down (yes, even Google isn’t immune to an outage) then you will at least have a copy of your messages to refer to and can send your mail out through a backup account, like a Yahoo or account.

4) decide your own risk level – a bank will require much more reinforcements than a small business. Most small businesses don’t think of keeping generators, fuel, backup hardware, redundant internet connections, around for the possibility of a problem. That’s WHY many of them go with the cloud in the first place. But make sure your cloud partners manage their risk at a level that works for you.

Here’s a good rule of thumb: that inexpensive cloud service you chose over the higher cost one might not be as prepared for a hurricane.  So if it seems like a great deal, it might be, as long as Mother Nature doesn’t get upset.

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