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Volume 27, Issue 3

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Disaster Recovery as a Service Becomes a Reality for Mid-sized Businesses

Written by  Alex Foster, Product Manager, Windstream October 17, 2012

Bethlehem-Data-Center-RackIt is not uncommon to think that mid-sized businesses are left in the dust when it comes to having access to the latest and greatest technologies and services. But that is an outdated belief, and a harmful stereotype that doesn’t do much to encourage technology advancements in businesses outside of the enterprise.

Budgets may be miniscule compared to those of larger organizations, but as technologies advance and become more accessible, the cost of implementation decreases. Case in point: look at VoIP phones, mobile devices, Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions, and other advanced computer hardware that levels the playing field between small shops and the big boys. Now, thanks to the acceptance and consumerization of cloud computing among the masses, you can add Disaster Recovery (DR) to this growing list.

The DR Needs of Businesses Today

The expensive days of copying data to tape and transporting those tapes to an offsite location are still lingering, and for d businesses that practice DR, it is still the most common method. It may seem tried and true, but in the event of a disaster, the recovery process is long, grueling, and inefficient. The Recovery Point Objective (RPO) is a minimum of 24 hours for these traditional methods, with an even longer Recovery Time Objective (RTO) to restore manually from backup systems. Add to this the need for more hardware, storage, and significant architectural work, and DR becomes impractical for mid-sized businesses. The CapEx and OpEx associated with these tasks become too immense to handle.

The lack of DR preparedness among mid-sized businesses is very unsettling. According to an SMB survey conducted in 2011, Symantec revealed how dire the need for managed DR services. The study revealed that only 23 percent of SMBs backup data on daily basis, and 15 percent of mid-sized businesses don’t backup their data at all. Mix in the lack of DR planning (50 percent don’t have a formal plan in place) and lack of testing (only 28 percent of firms have tested their DR plans), and you have concocted a perfect storm of IT threats that are pleading for a lifeboat.

The Challenges of Moving DR Beyond the Tape

With statistics as troublesome as these, you’d think companies would realize the need for change. Unfortunately, these mid-sized businesses face several roadblocks to DR implementation.

The biggest impediment is that they, like all businesses, are having less and less tolerance for any data loss. As the volume of data increases, so does its necessity in playing a roll to help organizations function properly. With data being such a valued commodity, you would think that SMBs have evolved past backing up data to more than local storage, but this is sadly the case. According to IDC, more than 60 percent of mid-sized businesses only backup to local storage. And, Symantec estimates that nearly half of SMBs would lose more than 40 percent of their data in a disaster. The over-reliance on local backup is a key contributor.

A vital component to any DR plan is the testing conducted to ensure all of the capabilities are functioning properly. Traditional DR methods make this task extremely time consuming due to significant architectural work, and an immense amount of hardware and storage that is used in the DR solution. Pile on the numerous companies without any internal recovery infrastructure or personnel with the knowledge and skills to run the complex recoveries—and the need for outside resources to contribute to the DR process is suddenly clear.

How Does DRaaS Benefit Mid-sized Businesses?

Fully managed DRaaS is the next step in the evolution of cloud-based DR solutions. It takes cloud-based to new heights by offering pre-packaged solutions that provide failover to a cloud environment. This pre-packaged solution is what becomes so appealing to enterprises and also contributes to what makes DRaaS so feasible for mid-sized businesses.

To understand the benefits that DRaaS offers to mid-sized businesses, we must understand how it works and how the architecture is built for these organizations. The service contains three basic steps:

  1. Service provider works with the customer to deploy a replication technology (typically software-based) that continually copies data changes in the customer environment to the cloud.
  2. Images of the customer’s servers are created and stored as warm-standby VMs. During this process, boot order for servers, IP addressing, VLANs and other elements are defined for the recovery environment.
  3. Upon declaration or test, the provider uses pre-built automation to boot the VMs and perform any conversion of physical server images as required. Customers then have access to their environment through a portal providing console access for any testing or management they need to perform.

With this approach, IT personnel are no longer required to physically transport backups or begin their DR recovery process by manually rebuilding servers and loading backup files. The data and applications are stored, mirrored offsite, and server recovery is managed completely by the DRaaS service provider.

In addition to these benefits, DRaaS service providers also offer customized replication options for mid-sized businesses, creating a tailored solution to best aligns with their existing infrastructure. Mid-sized DRaaS offerings typically support at least two of the following types of replication:

  • Host-based replication leverages an agent or driver on each Windows or Linux server to replicate data as changes occur.
  • Hypervisor replication, such as VMware SRM, is similar to host-based replication, but occurs at the hypervisor layer in virtualized environments. In an environment with VMs being continually created and destroyed (such as development) this may be easier to manage as it does not have to be installed and configured on a per-VM basis.
  • Storage array replication using technologies such as EMC RecoverPoint or NetApp SnapMirror/SnapVault can allow a customer to replicate data directly from their existing storage array. This allows customers to offsite data in real time with a single point of management and can allow a customer to leverage features built into the array, such as snapshots.

With customizable options in these three categories, businesses of all sizes have the gamut covered when it comes to storage, replication, and recovery needs.

DRaaS-graphic_Rd05

All of these services and technological architectures can seem daunting, but the layout and arrangement of the services have key cost and operational benefits for organizations. The four major benefits for organizations include:

  • Better functionality for less cost: There is little-to-no upfront investment required, and the recurring cost for the service is minimized due to provider-managed oversubscription and economies of scale. In general, the most significant cost is the storage of the customer’s data and even this cost is typically lower than the customer’s internal cost of storage.
  • Easier, more frequent, and less expensive testing: Testing to make sure a DR plan is effective is vital for any organization, whether relying on cloud-based solutions or not. The problem with traditional methods of DR is that testing is a long and costly process. With DRaaS the burden of testing is on the service provider and all the customer has to do is validate that applications perform and function as expected. The service provider will handle the infrastructure.
  • More flexible and enables chargeback: DRaaS gives mid-sized businesses the ability to adapt to a changing IT environment and business needs. As the company grows, so does the scale of its DRaaS. Additionally, DRaaS deployments are measured in weeks, not months or years, so it is easier to track costs along the way. DRaaS also enables chargebacks to offset and share technology costs.
  • Pay-as-you-go: Managing IT services can be difficult, and now DRaaS is being thrown into the mix. Luckily, DRaaS customers pay per protected service, which operationalizes DR spending. This feature makes it easy to add protected servers or storage, avoid frightening CapEx spending. Customers can start by protecting a handful of critical servers and grow over time. This is unlike do-it-yourself or CapEX solutions where the organization needs to buy the gear for the terminal size of the environment upfront.

All companies must protect their data, and with the presence of hosted solutions such as DRaaS, effective DR is now available for businesses of all sizes. With DRaaS solutions being fully managed by the service providers, mid-sized businesses no longer have the burden of hardware and software upkeep. This benefit, in addition to the cost-savings provided, allows companies to focus on the more immediate issues that affect day-to-day operations, leaving the safety of its data in the hands of qualified and certified professionals.