But it need not be that way. Infrastructure virtualization theoretically lets you replicate your business processes in the cloud, where they can lie dormant at very low cost until you need them in a disaster. The emphasis here is on "theoretically." Moving physical applications to the cloud and keeping cloud-resident data reasonably up-to-date requires considerable skill and finesse. You trade "instant failover" for dramatically lower monthly costs, but keep the peace of mind that comes from knowing your business DNA is safely archived in a distant state or country.
The skills needed for cloud disaster-recovery implementation are within the abilities of most IT technologists, but if your company is small and consultant-dependent, you'll have to get outside help. Consulting firms are stepping up to the plate, creating cloud-oriented disaster-recovery service packages that handle the headaches for less-sophisticated users, while still reaping the bulk of cloud economies of scale.
One constraint of such services is a client's local Internet connection speed. But speeds are increasing as costs plummet, especially as fiber connectivity options penetrate business markets; most are adequate for nighttime backup synchronization. One consultancy that offers a cloud-based disaster recovery service, CompuVision, uses a 100Mbps Internet service center to provide fast data transfers during an outage, for example.
Run your app directly on a cloud to lose infrastructure hassles
A few cloud providers -- Microsoft and Google among them -- foresee application development moving straight to the cloud, bypassing the traditional server-OS-storage platform. Although not yet ready for prime time, Microsoft's Azure aims to leverage the skill set of existing .Net developers to let them code, test, and deploy applications without concern for the OS or hardware on which they run. InfoWorld's Test Center drive of Azure finds its architecture well conceived but concludes that it's too soon to predict its role as a major cloud offering.
Google's much more lightweight App Engine, also only available in beta but slightly more baked than Azure, focuses on a much smaller audience: Python developers. Billed as a thin layer of Web-enabled Python with fat Internet connectivity and automatic performance scaling, this is an easier tool for most developers to get their arms around.
Software engineering consultant Denny Bollay has examined both Amazon's EC2 and App Engine: "EC2 is fine for what it is, but someone has to play system administrator, a chore that software engineers don't want. App Engine looks like a nice first cut at a streamlined cloud application platform environment, but it has issues like cost prediction and vendor lock-in. What I really am looking for is a cross between Amazon's nonproprietary cloud and Google's cloud compiler with BigTable database. And I'd like to see data providers in the mix, delivering real-time streams of weather, stocks, news, and the like that I can process on the fly in App Engine or its equivalent. Cloud-seeding, as it were."