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Cloud's worst-case scenario: What to do if your provider goes belly up

Brandon Butler | Jan. 9, 2014
Last September customers of storage provider Nirvanix got what could be worst-case scenario news for a cloud user: The company was going out of business and they had to get data out, fast.

Cloud providers offer service-level agreements (SLA) which guarantee a certain amount of uptime. But, users should be careful they are following the SLAs closely to ensure their systems are architected in a way that they can be reimbursed for any downtime from their provider. Some vendors, like Amazon, require multiple Availability Zones within its cloud to be down before an SLA kicks in.

Customers can still find themselves stuck though in a situation like hundreds of users of the Nirvanix platform did though. If a data migration out of a cloud is necessary, Datalink's Christensen says there are ways to make the process as efficient as possible. One is to reduce the amount of data actually being transferred using data caching, deduplication and WAN optimization tools. Some providers don't charge for putting data into their cloud, and only charge customers for getting data out, so making that process as efficient as possible is beneficial. Datalink worked with a handful of customers after the Nirvanix bombshell and most were able to recover their data, or were already using Nirvanix as a secondary storage site. Christensen says that's a common use case for the cloud today: Use it as a backup site so that the original copy of the data is still live somewhere else in case there is an issue in the cloud.

Noah Broadwater, who heads up digital products and technology for the Special Olympics, has been using cloud services for 10 years, so he's aware of the risks cloud service providers pose. He's come up with an innovative way to hedge his use of the cloud.

One of the biggest problems customers face if they do have to get data out of a public cloud platform is that the vendor may use a proprietary file storage platform, so even if the user is able to get data out from their defunct cloud provider, the end user may not have the ability to run those applications or data on their internal systems. "If you don't have the system software to run it on, it doesn't matter if you have the data, it's unusable," he says. Technically data mapping and cleaning can be done, but that's a long and cumbersome process.

Broadwater's come up with another way: Before entering into a contract with a provider, Broadwater negotiates an escrow account with the vendor that promises to have the vendor supply the most up to date version of the data software into a locked account.

Broadwater, as the customer, only has access to that account and software if the vendor declares bankruptcy or if the customer is unable to use data stored in the vendor's cloud. "We can't touch the code unless those clauses in the contract allow it," he explains.


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