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On Moving, Home Renovations and other Natural Disasters

Last week I was without Internet.

Compared to the people who have been without a home over the past several months through floods, earthquakes, tsunamis and tornados, it sounds rather trivial. I was only dealing with some renovations which involved moving my home office and waiting for the cable guy.

Still, to my 7 and 9 year old, not being able to connect to Moshi Monsters and Club Penguin was a big deal. As for me, I managed to get by, tethering to my iPhone and physically going into the office more than usual.

But it got me thinking about our reliance on the physical and what that means in the context of the cloud.

Following the floods up in Queensland, Australia, I heard a story about a cloud-based managed service provider. As the floodwaters receded, they hired a bunch of sales folks who went around to every small office and retailer in the region and told them to call before they spent their insurance money buying new computers.  Why buy a bunch of servers to run MYOB or Quicken and risk floods, fire and theft, when you can run everything including your POS out of the cloud?

But when you don’t have an Internet connection, the cloud is of little use.

Google is facing this exact dilemma with its upcoming Chromebook release, and is providing offline support for Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Docs—something they apparently have been running internally for the past several months. Interestingly though, based on both the Cr-48 pilot release and earlier internal conversations, it would seem that there is a view within Google that begins with the assumption of always-on connectivity to the cloud.  “When people use our Google Docs, there are no more files. You just start editing in the cloud, and there’s never a file.” And so offline support becomes the exception, instead of the rule.

Of course, when you hit that exception, knowing exactly how your business will continue to run is crucial.

Clearly, there are trade-offs to be made. Without an Internet connection, I can’t access my cloud based applications and data, but neither can I send and receive email or verify credit card transactions. What do I need to be able to do even in an offline state, and what applications are useless to me unless I’m online?

What are the options for WAN redundancy? When I learned about the Japanese earthquakes and tsunamis, I knew my friend was safe was from his Facebook postings. While he didn’t have power, his phone still worked. For individuals, perhaps tethering is the right solution; for a small branch, 3G backhaul as a failover option in the router may be more cost effective.

Ultimately, the answer will be that there is no single answer.  Not only is every business different, but each application and its use will be different. It’s only when you take stock of those applications that you understand where your own requirements lie.

I needed to stay connected to do my job while the renovation work was being done. But my kids… they read a book instead.

Stay mobile. Stay secure.

—Mark

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