Japan was reeling after an 8.9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami hit the Northeast coast this morning. The disaster has greatly impacted Tokyo and much of the rest of the country. As a result, much of the Pacific Ocean is under a tsunami warning. The disaster comes as many tech giants were setting up data centers in Tokyo to meet demand for cloud computing services. Luckily for companies and individuals using cloud computing services, the earthquake and tsunami should have little impact on the safety of their data.
Amazon Web Services indicated that the company's cloud computing services are continuing with minor interruptions. Amazon just launched its data center in Tokyo a few weeks ago.
Amazon Web Services, like most other cloud computing services, depends heavily on geographic dispersion and replication. All data stored by Amazon Web Services is backed up to multiple locations. An outage in Tokyo or any other single or even two locations generally does not endanger customers' data as everything is backed up to other locations in Europe, North America, and possibly elsewhere. Following a disaster, most cloud computing customers can retrieve their data as usual. There may be a few hours' outage while the networks are re-configured to point to servers in other parts of the world. However, the data will remain safe and secure.
Companies and individuals that do not use cloud computing and are dependent upon computers at one location alone obviously are at risk when homes, offices, and data centers are destroyed by disasters such as earthquakes.
Here are some thoughts on disaster preparedness, both for corporations and for individuals:
Use of any off-site storage facility, whether cloud computing or some other technology, costs money. A few services offer free accounts for limited amount of storage; but, if you are serious about protecting your business files or your family photographs, you will probably need to pay for an account that has enough storage capacity to meet your needs. Prices of $5 to $10 a month are common for personal use; corporations probably will need to pay much more. Compare this expense with the expenses of lost files. For personal use, assessing financial impact is much more difficult. How much are your children's baby pictures worth?
Everything doesn’t need to survive. You don't need to back up the operating system or the applications. Those can easily be replaced by purchasing new copies. Focus only on your most valuable files, those that cannot be replaced at a computer store: genealogy data, family pictures, home videos, correspondence, and similar materials that you have created and saved.
Security is always a concern anytime you move data off-site. Though it is unlikely that your data will get exploited as a result of this, it is still a valid concern. Luckily, almost all cloud computing services encrypt your data in your local computer BEFORE it is transferred to the remote cloud computing service. When selecting a cloud computing service, read the specifications carefully to make sure that your backups are encrypted and therefore unavailable to anyone else, not even to the employees of the cloud computing service. In fact, you should follow similar security procedures within your own computer. Files stored at home are as much at risk as files stored elsewhere. Many hackers around the world are trying to gain remote access to your home computer, including to your passwords, bank account information, and similar sensitive information. If you do not use encryption and/or in-home firewalls, a hacker may steal private information from your home computer.
Prioritize your systems. If you own both a laptop and a desktop computer, do you really need to back up both? Especially if the laptop simply contains copies of files that are on the desktop system? Then again, perhaps the laptop computer IS part of your backup plan. Storing backup copies on a laptop is a good plan for many situations although not for earthquakes, fires, floods, hurricanes, or other disasters that might destroy both systems at the same time.
Document and practice the recovery steps, then store the instructions in multiple places, including off-site. Do you know how you would go about getting your systems back up if all your computers were wiped out? Unless you have super human memory, you certainly cannot remember every step, the order of the steps, the exact configuration settings, IP Address, login credentials, everything for the entire recovery process. Even if you could, what if it isn’t you performing the recovery? Can your heirs retrieve the files and pictures they want? So document it, passwords and all. Obviously, you should restrict access to the group of individuals that would be performing the disaster recovery.
Test your backups! To make sure that everything is working in the manner you expect, occasionally restore a file or two from the backed up data. There is no need to restore everything; simply restore a sample of a few files from time to time. I'd suggest you do so monthly, and the first day of every month is easy to remember. Are your backed up files really healthy and available to you if you ever need them?
Disasters are traumatic for many reasons. A bit of advance planning and off-site storage can at least minimize the concerns about preservation of your family files and photographs.