Cloud: Tailor-made for continuity planning

With the federal government’s “Cloud First” initiative as a motivator, government agencies are taking the value of the cloud seriously. Cloud adoption has risen dramatically over the past few years and continues to rise as the business case is proven over and over again.

One area where the cloud makes a great deal of sense is for business continuity. If your applications, infrastructure or valuable data is accessible from anywhere, a disturbance in standard operations has much less of an impact.

“The merits of the cloud by default make it one of the prime candidates for continuity of operations,” says Chris Smith, U.S. Federal Chief Technology and Innovation Officer at Accenture. “The fact that you have a ubiquitous computing capability that, if architected correctly, could withstand just about any type of event and have resilient failover between sites, is what makes it so valuable.”

Take the example of 2012’s historic east coast storms, including Hurricane Sandy. Agencies that had their information residing in a cloud- or shared services-based environment had access to that information as long as they had access to a network. Agencies that didn’t ran the risk of having their operations come to a grinding halt.

The federal government’s General Services Administration showed exactly how that works. All of the agency’s IT systems functioned properly during the storm, and the agency was able to use its cloud-based email platform to foster emergency response and recovery operations.

Most agencies can’t put everything in the cloud, however. When evaluating cloud candidates with business continuity in mind, it’s most important to consider moving whatever is critical to the mission of the organization. That might include applications, records, planning documents and vital records.

For example, the financial arm of an agency charged with making grants in case of emergencies would need access to the rules, regulations and program information to execute those grants.

Other functions to consider for the cloud include unified communications, email and storage. Unified communications are especially important because they can keep people in touch when traditional channels are disrupted.

Making it work

According to Market Research Media’s report, “U.S. Federal IT Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Market Forecast 2013-2018,” the federal government will greatly increase adoption of cloud technologies with integrated business continuity functions. Many agencies are well on their way, including the Defense Department and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Many state governments have turned to the cloud with business continuity in mind as well, including Michigan, Texas, New Mexico and North Carolina.

Deciding what to move to the cloud for business continuity reasons is an important step. But what really brings it together is having a comprehensive plan and using the right tools to define policies. That means being able to set up policies for what will happen in case of emergency—how applications will scale, how access will be extended, and who gets priority access.

“The cloud isn’t a silver bullet. There needs to be diligence and forethought: how are you going to operate, where are you going to operate from?” says Smith.