Disaster recovery is creeping up on the priority list for enterprises
The recent fire in Holborn highlighted an important lesson in business continuity and disaster recovery (BC/DR) planning: when a prompt evacuation is necessary ‒ whether because of a fire, flood or other disaster ‒ you need to be able to relocate operations without advance notice.
The fire, which was caused by a ruptured gas main, led to the evacuation of 5,000 people from nearby buildings, and nearly 2,000 customers experienced power outages. Some people lost Internet and mobile connectivity as well.
While firefighters worked to stifle the flames, restaurants and theatres were forced to turn away patrons and cancel performances, with no way to preserve their revenue streams. The numerous legal and financial firms in the area, at least, had the option to relocate their business operations. Some did, relying on cloud-based services to resume their operations remotely. But those who depended on physical resources on-site were, like the restaurants and theatres, forced to bide their time while the fire was extinguished.
These organisations’ disparate experiences reveals the increasing role of cloud-based solutions ‒ particularly disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS) solutions ‒ in BC/DR strategies.
The benefits of DRaaS
Today, an increasing number of businesses are turning to the cloud for disaster recovery. The DRaaS market is expected to experience a compounded annual growth rate of 55.2 per cent from 2013 to 2018, according to global research company MarketsandMarkets.
The appeal of DRaaS solutions is that they provide the ability to recover key IT systems and data quickly, which is crucial to meeting your customers’ expectations for high availability. To meet these demands within the context of a realistic recovery time frame, you should establish two recovery time objectives (RTOs): one for operational issues that are specific to your individual environment (e.g., a server outage) and another for regional disasters (e.g., a fire). RTOs for operational issues are typically the most aggressive (0-4 hours). You have a bit more leeway when dealing with disasters affecting your facility, but RTOs should ideally remain under 24 hours.
DRaaS solutions’ centralised management capabilities allow the provider to assist with restoring not only data but your entire IT environment, including applications, operating systems and systems configurations. Typically systems can be restored to physical hardware, virtual machines or another cloud environment. This service enables faster recovery times and eases the burden on your in-house IT staff by eliminating the need to reconfigure your servers, PCs and other hardware when restoring data and applications. In addition, it allows your employees to resume operations quickly, since you can access the environment from anywhere with a suitable Internet connection.
Scalability is another key benefit of DRaaS solutions. According to a survey by 451 Research, the amount of data storage professionals manage has grown from 215 TB in 2012 to 285 TB in 2014. To accommodate this storage growth, companies storing backups in physical servers have to purchase and configure additional servers. Unfortunately, increasing storage capacity can be hindered by companies’ shrinking storage budgets and, in some cases, lack of available rack space.
DRaaS addresses this issue by allowing you to scale your storage space as needed. For some businesses, the solution is more cost-effective than dedicated on-premise data centres or colocation solutions, because cloud providers typically charge only for the capacity used. Redundant data elimination and compression maximise storage space and further minimise cost.
When data needs to be maintained on-site
Standard DRaaS delivery models are able to help many businesses meet their BC/DR goals, but what if your organisation needs to keep data or applications on-site? Perhaps you have rigorous RTOs for specific data sets, and meeting those recovery time frames requires an on-premise backup solution. Or maybe you have unique applications that are difficult to run in a mixture of physical and virtual environments. In these cases, your business can leverage a hybrid DRaaS strategy which allows you to store critical data in an on-site appliance, offloading data to the cloud as needed.
You might be wondering, though, what happens to the data stored in an appliance in the event that you have to evacuate your facility. The answer depends on the type of service the vendor provides for the appliance. If you’re unable to access the appliance, recovering the data would require you to either access an alternate backup stored at an off-site location or wait until you regain access to your facility, assuming it’s still intact. For this reason, it’s important to carefully evaluate potential hybrid-infrastructure DRaaS providers.
DRaaS as part of a comprehensive BC/DR strategy
In order for DRaaS to be most effective for remote recovery, the solution must be part of a comprehensive BC/DR strategy. After all, what good is restored data if employees don’t have the rest of the tools and information they need to do their jobs? These additional resources could include the following:
• Alternate workspace arrangements
• Provisions for backup Internet connectivity
• Remote network access solutions
• Guidelines for using personal devices
• Backup telephony solution
The Holborn fire was finally extinguished 36 hours after it erupted, but not before landing a blow on the local economy to the tune of £40 million. Businesses using cloud services as part of a larger business continuity strategy, however, were able to maintain continuity of operations and minimise their lost revenue. With the right resources in place, evacuating your building doesn’t have to mean abandoning your business.
By Matt Kingswood, head of managed services, IT Specialists (ITS)