International Literacy Association

It's 2 pm on the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend and the phone rings. It's your cloud vendor, letting you know that as of 5 pm the company will cease to exist.

This sounds like a nightmare, but it was all too real to Christine Heesters, the Director of Business Solutions at the International Literacy Association (ILA), who took the call. All of ILA's IT -- desktop support, network monitoring, databases, web servers, etc. -- was migrated to their cloud vendor ITCC's private cloud. (The vendor name has been changed.)

Founded as the International Reading Association (IRA), ILA has worked to enhance literacy instruction worldwide through research and professional development for 60 years. ILA members depend heavily on the various aspects of the ILA website and the organization depends on it to communicate with members and conduct normal business operations.

The call from ITCC's president also told Heesters that all of ITCC's employees were being let go and he did not know how long the servers running the private cloud would be available. She immediately asked about their backup files, which ITCC also managed, and was told that, while the backups were on an enterprise-class solution using Commvault, they were on servers in ITCC's private cloud. He also said that restoring the backups would not be an easy task unless someone was familiar with that format.

With most people bailing to take advantage of the holiday weekend, Heesters was unable to reach any other hosting providers to explore options. Commvault could not help since their customer was ITCC and not ILA. The data, by contract, was ILA's asset, but access to it was available only through ITCC and it was unknown how long they would have access to it.

Finally, she contacted Rich Dobry, Sr. VP at Micro Technology Group (MTG Inc.), and by Tuesday (May 31), ILA had a new cloud provider/partner. ILA signed with MTG for a six-month period, during which MTG provides managed services on the Microsoft Azure cloud computing platform.

Dobry discovered that the ITCC employees had 24 hours left and he contracted with some of them to assist with the transfer of everything to MTG's servers on the public cloud. The data included all live data, Dobry said, but the time to transfer the volume of data in the backups would have been excessive. According to Heesters, because ILA does daily incremental and full weekly backups, they fortunately never lost any customer data.

MTG waived the set-up fees, Heesters said, which would have cost ILA, Dobry said, about $60-$80K. By June 11, all of ILA's data was migrated to MTG's servers on the public cloud, but there was not the time for a structured move. They were "putting the wings on the plane as it taxied down the runway," Heesters said.

Before signing with ITCC, Heesters had done lengthy due diligence on the company, which included a series of smaller, less critical projects. As ITCC proved themselves on those projects, they were given larger and more critical work. As the relationship became more mission-critical to ILA, Heesters discussed with them what would happen if they went out of business. They were able to provide her with assurances that, in the unlikely scenario they went out of business, ILA would have at least 30 days to transition to a new provider. ITCC also said they would support ILA through a transition to a new hosting provider.

Heesters recommends that you need to determine who owns what, how the transition period would work, and how management changes would be done. "Have a worst-day-ever scenario," Heesters says, "where all of your carefully documented plans are worthless because your vendor doesn't exist anymore and there's no one to take your calls or manage your environment.

"A company could reduce its risk dramatically if they had two vendors and two separate hot environments," she said, "but that has a significant cost that most nonprofits can't afford. In MTG's case, one thing we are going to do is to include an escrow component to our contract. If MTG goes out of business, ILA will be able to contact their attorney to transfer cloud management to someone else." Dobry agrees, saying that in the present scenario transferring the data assets would be a matter of only a few minutes, whether ILA chose to move the data or if the cloud provider went out of business.

"Many companies fail to consider the risks as well as the benefits of transferring data and processes to a cloud provider," said Bob Mellinger, CEO of Attainium. "When you're dealing with vendors, it's almost as if you have to plan for contracting with them and recovering from their demise at the same time," Mellinger said.