4 tech trends in IT disaster recovery

How DR planning is affected by social, mobile, virtualization and cloud

By Bob Violino
Thu, July 19, 2012


As we've seen in recent years, natural disasters can lead to long-term downtime for organizations. Because earthquakes, hurricanes, snow storms or other events can put data centers and other corporate facilities out of commission for a while, it's vital that companies have in place a comprehensive disaster recovery plan.

Disaster recovery (DR) is a subset of business continuity (BC), and like BC, it's being influenced by some of the key trends in the IT industry. Foremost among these are

  • cloud services,
  • server and desktop virtualization,
  • the proliferation of mobile devices in the workforce
  • and the growing popularity of social networking as a business tool.

These trends are forcing many organizations to rethink how they plan, test and execute their DR strategies. CSO previously looked at how these trends are specifically affecting IT business continuity; as with BC, much of the impact they are having on DR is for the better. Still, IT and security executives need to consider how these developments can best be leveraged so that they improve, rather than complicate, DR efforts.

Here's a look at how these four trends are having an impact on IT disaster recovery.

Cloud Services

As organizations use more internal and external cloud services, they're finding that these resources can become part of a disaster recovery strategy.

Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., provides numerous private cloud services to internal users and customers. It also hosts services for 17 school districts and large enterprise clients.

[Also see Cloud disaster recovery: Can you trust your provider?]

"The cloud configuration allows us to perform software upgrades across the multiple tenant systems quickly, easily and without disruptions," says Bill Thirsk, vice president of IT and CIO at the college.

"Because our storage is virtualized, we can replicate data across SANS [storage-area networks] that we have placed strategically on our campus in numerous locations and in our data center [in Syracuse, N.Y.] A loss of a SAN means only that production operations switches over to another."

Because Marist can perform server-level backups across partitions, it can move data from one server platform to another should an event occur, Thirsk says.

There's big potential value in cloud-based DR services, says Rachel Dines, senior analyst, Infrastructure & Operations, at Forrester Research in Cambridge Mass.

To date, adoption of these offerings has been low, Dines says, "but there is a huge amount of interest and planning going on at end-user companies. Instead of buying resources in case of a disaster, cloud computing and its pay-per-use pricing model allows companies to pay for long-term data storage while only paying for servers if they have a need to spin them up for a disaster or test."

Cloud-based DR has the potential to give companies lower costs yet faster recovery, with easier testing and more flexible contracts, Dines says.

In a 2012 report from Forrester, the firm says cloud-based DR threatens to shake legacy approaches and offer a viable alternative to organizations that previously couldn't afford to implement disaster recovery or found it to be a burdensome task.

Perhaps the biggest downside to the cloud from the standpoint of DR are concerns surrounding security and privacy management.

"You still see with some major events, such as the lightning strike in Dublin [in 2011] that took out the cloud services of Amazon and Microsoft, that there can be some temporary loss of service," says John Morency, research vice president at research firm Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn. "The cloud shouldn't be considered 100% foolproof. If organizations do need that 100% availability guaranteed they need to put some serious thought into what they need to develop for contingencies."

A growing number of larger companies with complex IT infrastructures are putting in private clouds and using these as part of their disaster recovery strategies, rather than relying on public cloud services, Morency says. "They worry about being left out in the cold during a disaster" if service providers are not able to provide service, he says.

Morency notes that this is only true in the case of DR subscription services that provide floor space and actual equipment at a specific geographical location. "Given the more distributed and virtual nature of public clouds, this is much less of an issue," he says.

What the cloud has done for traditional disaster recovery service providers is make testing of their backup capabilities more flexible and less costly, Morency says.

Next page: Virtualization

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