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4 Tips To Protect Data During Cloud Migration

Expert advice for SMBs on minimizing risk of data loss and other disruptions in a move to the cloud.

12 Money Saving Tech Tips For SMBs
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Slideshow: 12 Money Saving Tech Tips For SMBs
Two words no IT pro wants to hear during a cloud project: "data loss."

Lost or corrupted data can be disruptive or downright disastrous. As more small and midsize businesses (SMBs) consider moves from legacy systems to hosted platforms, they should likewise consider how they'll get from A to B without major problems.

Even in the idea phase, a plan to mitigate data loss risks can help you calm cloud anxiety among executives and end users--whether those fears are founded or not. In an interview, Peter Bauer, CEO of Mimecast, recommended considering four areas to ensure a smooth rollout, whether you're just moving off an antique email server or managing a larger-scope project. Bauer's company provides cloud-based email archiving, continuity, and other services for hosted Exchange platforms and Office 365.

1. Define data. Data and data loss can mean different things to different companies--what does it mean to yours? Bauer advises identifying various scenarios specific to your project and organization and determining how to handle them if they arise, or prevent them altogether. Bauer notes that data loss can come about in a variety of ways. Three examples: Leaving data behind in error, incompatibility between existing data and new systems, and vendor failures.

Defining data and identifying various loss scenarios are prerequisites to a good testing plan, Bauer said. He added that SMBs shouldn't be bashful about asking their vendors questions about the migration process, such as who will have access to the data--and not just the post-rollout system.

A key testing tip: "Involve end users in the testing process so that they are actually validating that it's going to plan and working as you'd expect it to from an IT point of view," Bauer said.

2. Not all clouds are created equal. Consider this the vendor selection tip: Given the relative youth of most cloud platforms, some are more battle-tested than others--and that includes the on-boarding process. Technology startups and large companies alike are under persistent pressure to rush to market, and sometimes they'll cut corners to do so. "Most of the shortcuts are behind the scenes," Bauer said.

That's not to say you should avoid newer, small vendors. Rather, ask providers--no matter who they are--tough questions about their processes and systems before, during, and after migration. His tip: If the vendor talks openly about past failures in terms of data migration, security, or availability, that could actually be a good sign.

"It's a case of satisfying yourself that they have actually experienced problems before," Bauer said. "They have war stories, and can demonstrate anecdotally how they worked through them and how they've supported customers when things have gone wrong."

Beware the vendor that portrays a perfect track record--that might mean they're too inexperienced (or just lying). And if the vendor has too many war stories--and not enough stories of how those problems were solved--that's a red flag, too.

3. Don't save money--save data. The consistent cloud pitch to SMBs is: "save money!" That can bear true over time, but smart firms often take a more complex look at return on investment. In the case of cloud migrations, Bauer said when cost savings are the one and only project driver, migration risks tend to increase. Translation: Sometimes you get what you pay for. Budget consciousness is critical to any smaller company, but pause for a moment (or two) if price feels like the only real variable in your decision.

"The migration is often non-trivial, and when you really do the hard numbers on what it will cost, the low price point that might be dangled as the carrot in front of you may not be there," Bauer said.

Bauer recommends considering what capabilities you'll get--or not get--before embarking on a cloud move. One way to look at it: What will the project enable your company to do better? Consider things like data redundancy, uptime guarantees, and applications integration during the assessment phase. Not taking the long view can wipe out theoretical cost savings.

4. Have a fallback position. SMBs can embrace their fundamental differences with large enterprises, but here's one area where they should follow suit: Have a contingency plan. (The bare-minimum question to ask: What happens when I unplug this?)

"As part of the planning process, it's critical to understand your rollback position," Bauer said. Not doing so can leave the business in limbo if the proverbial you-know-what hits the fan during migration, particularly if it involves mission-critical systems. If something goes wrong, have a clear-cut plan for how to revert to the previous system, even if that means slowing down the project plan.

"It really is worth spending that time understanding and mapping out what that rollback process might look like, so that you don't find yourself midflight in a migration, something goes wrong, and you only have one direction you can move to restore your operations," Bauer said.

You can't afford to keep operating without redundancy for critical systems--but business units must prioritize before IT begins implementation. Also in the new, all-digital InformationWeek SMB supplement: Avoid the direct-attached storage trap. Download it now. (Free registration required.)

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