Is the cloud your disaster recovery solution?

Shoving everything into a hosted environment effectively creates a quick and dirty disaster recovery strategy.

Software as a service (SaaS) is normally sold on the basis of a fairly simple costing equation: no staff to pay for maintenance and no capital costs for equipment or licences. So it's not surprising that its role in helping develop effective disaster recovery plans tends to get shoved to one side a bit.

Yet shoving everything into a hosted environment does effectively create a quick and dirty disaster recovery strategy. If most of the services you need can be accessed via a conventional PC with an Internet connection, then the inability to get to your main premises might not require failing over to a backup location.

I was reminded on this during a recent lunchtime meeting with Michael Bishop, the general manager of Queensland managed speech services company SmartSpeak Solutions.

Disaster recovery certainly wasn't on Bishop's mind when SmartSpeak, which he founded in 2005 and now provides speech services to 1,300 customers, decided earlier this year to implement an SaaS-based customer relationship management (CRM) solution to help manage calls to the company's Network Speech Operation Centre (NSOC).

The basis for choosing SaaS rather than a locally hosted solution was simple pragmatism: Bishop foresaw an inevitable interruption to the business of months if a conventional software package had to be installed. Even with the RightNow solution which the company eventually chose three months ago, Bishop advocated a limited roll-out, making the software available initially to just 12 employees.

SmartSpeak now intends to expand that to other divisions, though the process is still going to be gradual; Bishop noted that many reporting features hadn't even been switched on until recently.

Since SmartSpeak is in the business of selling managed services itself, Bishop was familiar with the main arguments used to promote the software services approach, which included removing the need for customers to do their own backups. But the disaster recovery benefits of its CRM implementation were an added and unexpected bonus.

"There's been a huge advantage to us from a disaster recovery perspective, but that was something we completely overlooked during the planning process," Bishop said. "That for us was a big benefit."

Off-premises access hasn't replaced the core DR policy which SmartSpeak developed and includes access to a failover facility if necessary, but it does provide a useful second layer. It also makes it easier for staff to telecommute as needed; Bishop noted that some employees now preferred to work from home early in the morning and avoid peak hour traffic jams.

Of course, all this is very much reliant on the service provider offering a solid quality of service. "With any managed service, you don't know what is in the cloud, and there's a certain level of trust," Bishop said. But if you're trying to sell management on the benefits of the SaaS approach, DR is certainly a useful extra weapon to have in the armoury.