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Cyclone Debbie slammed the Queensland coast on March 28, dumping copious rainfall.

Winds up to 263 kilometres per hour, according to the Bureau of Meteorology, toppled trees and knocked out power to 45,000 homes. The damage to public and private infrastructure has been estimated by Treasurer Curtis Pitt at $2 billion.

Storms such as Cyclone Debbie and construction mishaps such as cut wires can wreak havoc on business connectivity. Given the importance of maintaining and restoring connectivity following disruptive events, many businesses have created data recovery plans. One of the key factors in such plans is choosing on-premise versus cloud-based storage.

Both methods have merit, according to Aiden Dalley, product marketing manager for software firm Viewpoint.

“When it comes down to it, the decision to store data on premises or in the cloud, more often than not, is the customer’s choice,” he said.

Some companies have adopted a hybrid approach to take advantage of the strong points of both, as well, taking steps such as keeping sensitive or proprietary information on company servers and more general data in the cloud.

In the face of storms, natural disasters, and mishaps, the important issue is getting access to data, no matter where it’s stored.

“It’s not so much about where the data is stored, but having a business continuity plan to implement when disaster strikes. That’s important from a data perspective, but also from an operations perspective. What part of your operations do you need to get restarted first? Do you have a communications plan with subcontractors and suppliers?” Dalley said.

Jason Turner, manager of data center operations for Viewpoint, said control is the primary advantage of on-premise storage.

“You purchase your own equipment, you buy as many cores and memory as you need, and you get to pick the brand you like, and you get to have complete control,” he said.

The cons, however, outweigh the pros, as businesses typically pay for more than they need, and have to worry about setup, maintenance, provisioning, handling system failures, conducting or paying for repairs and so on.

"You’ve got to patch it, keep it up to date, and watch the vendor list for any known vulnerabilities,” Turner said.

Those issues are solved by choosing cloud storage.

“On the hardware side of things, the buzzword is ‘elastic.’ You spin up the servers you need, in a fault-tolerant setup, meaning that a web site has at least two web servers,” Turner said.

A new project can start with one core and one memory when it has no users, then scale vertically by adding resources to the server. However, scaling horizontally - provisioning new servers, which are small and cheap, as fast as you need them - is likely a better solution.

Services such as Amazon Web Services offer autoscaling, which automates the process for users.

“Your server gets templated, and Amazon keeps track of your demand. As it goes up, it spins up more servers, and as it goes down, it deletes those servers, so you pay for what you’re using at the time you need it,” Turner said.

Backing up data is also vital for businesses, and that data must be stored in another location. For on-premise systems, that requires more hardware.

Cloud storage, in contrast, incorporates that physical separation automatically.

“Amazon, in every data centre, has two availability zones that are miles apart. They’re in different physical locations, so you build your app across those availability zones," Turner said. "In the event of a cyclone, most likely one data centre in an availability zone could get wiped out, but the other one would be fine.”

A further advantage of cloud storage is a change in the skillset needed to maintain it. Rather than keeping staff with advanced hardware skills, Turner said, everything can be done with a laptop and network connection. This allows small businesses and startups to manage their data cheaply and effectively.

“Businesses that don’t have the capital to invest in equipment can now just pay for the storage they need in the cloud and they’re prepared to grow with their demand. It really allows new entries to focus on what they do well and get to market faster,” he said.

Turner sees the industry in a transitional period, with on-premise storage fading. He expects to see the cloud become the overwhelmingly predominant storage system over the next five years.

 
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