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When Lightning Strikes Your Cloud Twice - Resilience for Micro Businesses.

Cover Image By NASA/MODIS Rapid Response System - [1] and [2], Public Domain,

I spoke about navigating privacy in Barbados and the wider Caribbean region as a micro, small or medium sized enterprise (MSME), but privacy is only the newest of worries for small businesses in the region. Our long-time foe has been and remains the hurricane season, with all of its tempestuousness and potential for life-threatening storms on a newly awful scale thanks to climate change.

For the past five years, Caribbean businesses of all sizes have been looking towards cloud computing to satisfy both their IT and resilience needs quickly and cheaply. A sensible move, as the large tech companies behind most of these cloud computing businesses - the usual cast of Facebook, IBM, Amazon, Microsoft and Google - have the funds, collective knowledge and geopolitical clout to buy, contract and manage network and computing resources worldwide, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

However, those companies, like ours, are run by mere humans and we cannot control everything. Just last week, major websites such as Amazon and CNN suffered from an outage at one cloud vendor because of a slightly buggy software update and one client's innocuous configuration change. Well before then, lightning strikes have been (and still are) a bane to Amazon, Google and Microsoft. The expensive electricity and Internet services in our region cannot be guaranteed either.

Nowadays, many cloud services offer apps and software that allow offline use, but none of that is helpful if you don't have a computer to use because of minor, localised damage such as a dead hard drive or a coffee-covered PC. Knowing my own knack for computer trouble, I've tried to cover both hardware and software redundancy as well as processes to minimise my risks as a micro business.

Laptops, tablets, smartphones are 3-for-1 deals.

When you need equipment that is portable, powerful and easily powered, laptops, tablets and smartphones take the cake. With their rechargeable batteries, wifi and Bluetooth connectivity and power efficiency, all three devices can play key roles in your business.

Laptops with built-in Ethernet ports and wifi, removable batteries, solid state hard drives and room for USB accessories make serviceable mini-servers with built-in uninterruptible power supplies. You can use laptops to share files or as backup web servers and carry them easily should danger be imminent. Combined with multiple external hard drives for extra storage, you can create a suitable micro office backup solution that can even cover cybersecurity threats such as ransomware and viruses. Overall, they have the power and screen size to let you continue document editing or content creation while replaceable batteries give you power when there is none.

Tablets and smartphones lack the Ethernet ports and replaceable batteries that laptops may have, but they are much more easily topped up by portable solar chargers and flagship devices are more resilient to dust and moisture than laptops. While you might be more uncomfortable editing documents on these devices, you can usually use Bluetooth, docks and cables to connect to larger monitors and effortlessly control your pitch deck. Make sure you have a separate, large-capacity microSD card as removable storage for all your documents.

Open Source Software and Apps can come to the rescue.

I'm a big fan of open source software - a lot of it is designed to work with older hardware at relatively low costs with reasonable functionality, plus every and any one who can parse through the code can help to find bugs or make add-ons. If I have happen to have a major upset that leaves me without offline access to cloud apps, I reach for two open source packages in particular - LibreOffice and GnuCash.

To replace your basic office functions, I recommend LibreOffice as a backup to Microsoft Office Basic or Google Docs/Sheets/Slides. Free, mostly compatible with Microsoft and available for use offline, LibreOffice is robust enough to be used full-time.

Quickbooks is hard to replace, but GnuCash can work in a pinch. If you have your bank statements or QuickBooks exports in .csv format, you can import them into GnuCash to still keep an eye on your accounts.

Of course, Microsoft, Google, Apple and many others have improved their mobile apps to allow offline access on tablets and smartphones, giving you another fallback method.

Get your routine down pat.

All the hardware and software in the world won't make a difference if you don't stay vigilant and follow a good backup routine. While keeping up your antivirus, running complete scans weekly and regularly updating your software on all devices are important steps, when things do inevitably go wrong, backups are the best resource to get your business back on track with minimal loss of crucial data - or ransom money!

Weekly backups to external storage drives and microSD are useful for more than just ransomware attacks. When human error leads you to delete the 17th draft that you need to refer to for the 20th final draft, you can retrieve the lost document from your storage. When you are running out of hard drive space, compressed backups allow you to save old files onto an external storage drive, freeing up space for new work. And if legal issues arise, it's always handy to be able to refer to the last saved contract.

Always review, revise and upgrade when you can.

While cloud applications grow as your business does, offline resilience often becomes much more complicated and requires more nuanced use of advanced technical solutions, such as network attached storage. Embrace this complexity - when juggling storage drives becomes too confusing, it means your business is doing well! Call in IT experts and lean on their advice to move on to the big leagues.

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