Monday, 6 February 2012

Insurance of the virtual kind

I was having a very interesting conversation with my hosting partner, Dudobi, a couple of weeks ago about how some of the stuff they're doing now around cloud and virtual services can be really beneficial to SMEs.

One of the things that I found really interesting is virualised disaster recovery, which admittedly sounds like something from a Stephen Spielberg movie, but is actually far more mundane. The idea behind disaster recovery (DR) is that if your office burns down (for example), you have an alternative location where you can decamp en masse and fire up desktop computers and servers which have a copy of your data and installations and carry on as normal.

Sounds like the sort of 'insurance policy' every business should have, but in reality the cost is prohibitive to smaller companies. Also it doesn't really help when people are stuck in the snow outside their homes! This is where virtualised DR is such a great concept. The idea is the you set up virtual servers which have a copy of your business information, and virtual desktop computers which have all of the software you use. Then you turn them off, just doing some low-cost regular data replication. As they aren't physical machines, they cost very little to have switched off.

Then the disaster happens, which could be something nasty like fire, theft or flood, or something mundane like the British inability to deal with snow. Rather than the business stopping, one call to the hosting company and your virtual DR is brought online. Your employees then just have to connect to them from their home PCs, and away you go.

Why this is so good is that you pay a charge to set everything up, and then a small annual cost (a few hundred pounds) to store the virtual machines and keep the data up to date. And then you pay by the hour when you have to use them.

This is another great example of how cloud computing is bringing some of the technological benefits that were previously only available to really big companies to those with as few as five or ten staff. And that has to be a good thing.

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