Although customers initially regarded cloud services as the next generation of IT outsourcing, businesses are starting to consider the cloud as an extension of corporate networks. As a result, customers are demanding more resilient cloud services. With the aid of geographic information system (GIS) technology, the industry association TM Forum is working to help providers minimize or prevent service disruptions.
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Most network and performance management systems can only see a problem after the network has been compromised; they generally are unable to detect developing threats. For example, if an earthquake knocked out all connectivity to a particular data center, how should the provider respond? It may be impossible for customers to access important resources in another area, and the management systems in place may be incapable of making intelligent predictions to inform the provider or the customer about what's going on.
In the case of a natural disaster, data may be inaccessible for a long period of time, and in our technology-hungry world, even a five-minute power outage can feel like an eternity. For defense-related or health-care customers, five minutes can literally mean the difference between life and death.
Using GIS technology to develop a resilient cloud
In light of these challenges, one of the live demonstration projects featured this May at the TM Forum's Management World 2012 conference in Dublin, Resilient Cloud Catalyst for Defense: Maintaining Service in the Face of Developing Threats, showed how providers can maintain uptime during a disaster. The project is part of the TM Forum's Catalyst program, in which several vendors collaborate to create solutions to specific challenges that service providers face.
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The Resilient Cloud demo explored a scenario that enabled cloud providers to detect and evaluate external threats. The demo then used network management systems to proactively move mission-critical applications to other cloud resources even before any alerts about physical network damage.
More specifically, the Catalyst project proposed using GIS technology to help understand developing threats, such as natural disasters. In this use case, it was an ice storm that posed the menace, similar to a weather system that affected parts of the United States during the winter of 2011.
For defense-related or health-care customers, [a five minute outage] can literally mean the difference between life and death.
The Catalyst project showed how GIS technology can augment existing network monitoring and management systems by providing triggers that deliver notifications in advance of a developing threat and predict its potential impact. The ideal outcome is to give customers enough advance warning to identify any critical applications and services and relocate them to areas that are not facing a crisis situation.
Bulletproofing the cloud
While the GIS technology was compelling and attracted a lot of interest at the conference, the unfortunate truth is that today we have no way to predict if a natural or manmade event is going to take out connectivity or even knock out the electricity for a few minutes. Luckily, there are other ways to handle sudden events that can affect access to corporate data.
If GIS technology is linked to a policy-based management system, a cloud provider could define, in advance, what action should take place if certain criteria or conditions are met. These systems could of course be tailored to the individual customer's needs. Then, if a predefined condition or conditions are met, the cloud provider's policy-based management system ensures that the appropriate backup plan will kick in.
In the case of an ice storm in the Northeast, a hurricane bound for Florida or an earthquake hitting California, critical data in those affected areas might failover to other sites that will not be disrupted by the event. This resiliency relies on the cloud making intelligent decisions under conditions that are anything but ordinary to ensure customers can keep their businesses and operations up and running.
TM Forum members are continuously working on the Resilient Cloud, and we may have future demonstrations to showcase at the upcoming Management World Americas 2012 in Orlando, Fla., in early December. The forum encourages all cloud service providers to actively engage in defining mechanisms for making cloud services more resilient so that all cloud users can feel safe migrating vital data outside their own data centers.