Maximising on cloud solutions to ensure business continuity and maintain data integrity during system downtimes

Cloud Computing Illustration

By Jonathan Somen

Data backup and replication are increasingly becoming an integral part of businesses in today’s digitally savvy world. This is because data is increasingly becoming the most valuable resource. It is easy to underplay the importance of data until you have lost all your data and your critical services are not available to your customers. This can create a chaotic work environment and in some cases even reduce the value of a company’s shares in the stock market. This has resulted in companies investing millions of shillings in data backup for data protection and replication to ensure higher uptimes and minimise downtimes.

The world of cloud services is bringing about significant change in the world of ICT, not just in Kenya but also globally.  It is safe to say that Kenya is still in the early adopter stage or the educational stage where there are many businesses who need to understand the benefits of moving to cloud-based solutions. It is clear that there is a knowledge gap about how to think about applications and how they affect business operations. Large-scale companies have the advantage of investing heavy on data replication and backup whereas small companies cannot be able to afford to spend the same amount of money on securing their data.

Required Uptime

A fully replicated site in a secondary location can be described as one that runs in an active active mode.  This means if the primary location fails, users are automatically working with the secondary site which runs an exact copy of the primary site.  Most companies should aim to achieve zero downtime for critical applications and therefore deploying a replicated solution can help companies to achieve that goal. That could be caused by something as simple as a power failure. Without replication, in a worst-case scenario, it could take an organisation seven days or even longer to reinstall the application software, reload the data and bring all services back up and running and if the recovery time of seven days is acceptable, then this application would not be termed mission critical.  Mission critical applications should be up and running within five minutes and with replication in place, those applications should never experience any downtime. It’s a very delicate choice to decide how mission critical an application is but the process of identifying how much downtime is acceptable is what helps to determine whether replication of the service needs to be in place.

There is one very important point to note when it comes to replication of data and that is concerning backing up data.  There is a common misconception that by replicating data, the user has two copies of data and hence the data is safe.  Most services have replication functionality such that the secondary site reflects the primary site.  If a user deletes data at the primary site, data is automatically deleted from the secondary site.  Data replication alone cannot guarantee the integrity of data.

Data Backup

Data backup ensures that historical data such as documents, emails, attachments or files that were digitally created can be accessible when required. Data backup keeps this data safe as well as providing easy access to information when needed.  This is particularly important for critical sectors such as banking, and insurance that have legal contracts that revolve around paying or receiving money.  Today’s offsite backup solutions provide very advanced search capabilities to allow users access the information quickly whilst also ensuring that the paper trail of critical processes such as operational compliance exists. This historical data can be admitted into a court of law and can be shown to be a true record of transactions.  Critically today, with the imminent enforcement date in the European Union of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) on 25th May 2018, companies in Kenya doing business with EU companies must be compliant and therefore having data backup that complies with GDPR regulations is critical.

Work-related emails play a key role in communication given that over 60 percent of all attachments reside within emails. Backing up of emails is an integral part of an overall data backup plan. It is estimated that emails constitute 80 percent of backup data. This is because we are able to collaborate, edit documents, and attach files in a single email. A single email can be loaded with a lot of valuable information. But once this critical information is lost, it is very hard to retrieve related information that was attached to that email.

Physical Infrastructure

Historical data backup solutions included backing up data on tapes and servers.  Tapes were bulky and needed to be replaced on a regular basis. Key to that outdated solution is that it had to be constantly and regularly restored to ensure its integrity.  In some cases, backup tapes were taken offsite which created another problem by opening up the data to possible theft during transit.  The challenge with this cumbersome approach was that if they didn’t go offsite, then you had a risk of losing the primary data and the backup.  In some cases, the replication server was in the same location as the primary site creating risk if the location had a major disaster.  In other cases, companies would host the replication site in a secondary company location where those companies had multiple physical locations.  The secondary site was the best option but companies had to double up on their investment into a proper data centre in both locations and all the costs associated with setting up a secondary site.

Cloud technology has not only made efficient backup possible by ensuring that all key requirements are met but has reduced the number of interventions required to ensure data is available at all times. It has provided a hassle-free solution, which offers a one-stop solution to customers.  In addition, companies do not have to invest a colossal amount of capital and human resources to maintain a secondary site. Part of the key offering of a managed cloud solution is that it removes the time and human resources element away from the company freeing up valuable time allowing them to focus on key strategic decisions. By moving to Cloud, it offers companies time savings, removes the need for capex and changes the model to an Opex model that allows companies to enjoy very high level service availability; in solutions properly deployed, this can easily provide 100 per cent uptime.

The writer is the Founder and Managing Director of Eldama Technologies Ltd and the former Founder and Managing Director of AccessKenya Group

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