Why are two clouds better than one?

Despite the news that enterprise cloud adoption is up 61.5 per cent since 2010, many businesses are still sceptical of moving critical communications applications such as email and corporate data over to a single cloud vendor. Even admitted cloud enthusiasts and members of the Open Data Center Alliance, a consortium of global IT companies such as Infosys, Deutsche Telekom and SAP, have admitted that two-thirds of its members are delaying their move to the cloud due to a number of concerns around security and downtime.

Security has long been one of the primary barriers to cloud adoption, but while vendors are working hard to assuage fears on that score, the issue of unplanned downtime is another major hurdle that must also be overcome.

This is easier said than done however and August's widely publicised Microsoft outage in North America is exactly the type of incident that will no doubt work against the efforts of cloud vendors to convince organisations to shift their data needs to a third party host. Those affected by the outage were without Exchange Online and Lync online services for up to nine hours with little guidance on how to handle the situation or when the issues would be resolved. Despite the Microsoft service offering a 99.9 per cent uptime guarantee, the unplanned outage demonstrates exactly why service lapses pose a serious concern for companies.

While precise outage costs are hard to determine and depend entirely on the industry and type of work an organisation carries out, what is clear is that outages are expensive. In August last year for example, Google suffered a five minute outage, which was later credited with a 40 per cent plunge in global web traffic and a predicted loss of $545K in revenue.

Fortunately, service lapses on the scale of the Google outage are few and far between but this doesn't mean that they aren't a legitimate concern for businesses. On the contrary, only last month a survey by Enterprise Management Associates revealed that 98 per cent of cloud customers experience at least one incident of unplanned downtime when implementing a new cloud vendor. The collective cost of these incidents would be impossible to calculate but it has been estimated that the impact of downtime on a global scale is 127 million lost man-hours of productivity.

Beyond the effect to business revenue, there is also the damage to an organisation's reputation which can be even harder to quantify. With users relying on cloud for applications and access to their data, outages now draw huge media attention. In the past year alone, Google, Amazon and Facebook have all enjoyed thousands of complaints and column inches when unplanned, periodic outages left users without access to their accounts for hours at a time.

So while it's true that cloud providers and social messaging services do everything in their power to avoid outages, it is necessary to plan for the inevitable. At some point, your cloud service will go down. If you're lucky it will be for minutes rather than hours, but either way businesses should have a solid continuity solution in place to minimise disruption.

One option available to IT managers is to embrace a hybrid cloud solution. According to a study by TechPro Research about one third of IT managers are already making a move towards the hybrid cloud, while 37% are keen to adopt it in the near future. A blended cloud, like the Mimecast and Microsoft solution mitigates the problems associated with relying on a single cloud provider and spreads the risk, protecting your critical data, your end users, and ultimately the bottom line.

When it comes to protecting your business critical applications, one cloud is a good start but two is much better.

Orlando Scott-Cowley, is an evangelist, strategist and technologist at Mimecast.