Use a tiered cloud strategy to skirt outages

With recent outages and price cuts, it may make sense to layer your cloud providers -- now it's affordable too

Two seemingly unrelated events in the cloud computing space should make you think about taking a different approach to your sourcing strategy for the cloud. The first event: Cloud outages, such as the recent Microsoft Azure failure, have shown us that no single cloud is infallible. The second event: Google, Amazon.com, and Microsoft have all dropped their cloud services' prices.

The second event means you can deal with the first event better. In your own data center, you'd have your servers fail over to others if needed. And any large organization will have a failover strategy to other data centers or external providers for business-critical information and processes so that an outage doesn't stop the business.

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You should have exactly the same strategy in the cloud, and with the lower prices, it may not be cost effective to use a few clouds at a time to hedge your IT bets or to use cloud providers as tiers, much like you do with storage and compute servers within the data centers, when reliability by using redundant systems is a requirement.

You already know how to do this (or should!). All that's changed are the resources involved. You sign up with two or more cloud providers that provide the same service, such as storage. You make sure the data persists in each cloud service as a mirror of the other. You then use them as tiers, such as a primary cloud, a secondary cloud, and perhaps a cloud designated for disaster recovery. If the primary fails, you move to the secondary one automatically until the primary cloud service is restored.

If you do this right, users should not even notice an outage. Also, your uptime will vastly improve because the odds of both cloud services being down at the same time are tiny. (Just make sure that your secondary providers aren't just reselling your primary cloud provider's services under their name.)

Of course, there are two drawbacks:

  1. Cost. You'll pay for two or more cloud providers. However, with the recent price reductions, the business case for this is much more compelling than before. Count on even more price reductions in the near future.
  2. Complexity. This strategy adds a lot of work for administrators, so be sure to consider the complex nature of this tiered architecture, including software systems to manage the replication and the failover. Be sure to apply it where it justifies the added effort and complexity.

On the bright side, if done correctly, this strategy will provide better service to your users than the traditional in-house systems -- let's not forget that they typically suffer more outages than cloud-based systems do. Where the amount of money lost from outages could be in the millions of dollars in a single year, the use of a tiered cloud strategy becomes self-funding at worst and contributes significantly to the bottom line (via the avoided revenue disruptions) at best.

It's something to consider as you migrate to cloud-based services.

This article, "Use a tiered cloud strategy to skirt outages," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of David Linthicum's Cloud Computing blog and track the latest developments in cloud computing at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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