Disaster Recovery on Double Duty

More and more IT shops are using technologies such as virtualization and replication to make disaster recovery just another service, sometimes using the same servers, network and storage that run order entry, email, application development or other services.

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Jason Buffington, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, says many companies now require branch offices to adopt the same protection standards as headquarters. He says products designed to help with such efforts include Riverbed Technology's Steelhead EX+ Granite appliances, which optimize the performance of wide area networks to speed backup and replication from branch offices to central data centers.

And many organizations are reducing or ending their use of tape for disaster recovery, although some still use it for long-term archiving.

"For us, tape is dead," says Kurtis Berger, IT manager at Provider Advantage NW. "It was the second tape drive that failed that finally pushed us toward a hard-drive-only solution. Hard drives are faster, and so cheap. We just couldn't find any reason to entertain the idea of tape anymore."

"Tape has been a love-hate relationship -- mostly hate," says Jason Axne, systems administrator at conveyer belt manufacturer Wire Belt Company of America. He cites tape's unreliability, the lengthy recovery periods for even single files or email inboxes, and the time required to manage backups. Using Actifio PAS and disk-based storage, he says, "I don't spend any time during the day managing our backups ... because it just works."

AA Robert L. Scheier

Berger says cloud providers only promise "not to go into your servers" when he questions them about security. "To me, that's not enough," he says, adding that the disaster recovery prices he's hearing -- $500 per month per server -- are "more than I can justify." He instead uses Acronis Backup & Recovery to back up approximately 60 VMs at two data centers. The facilities are only a half-hour apart, so this setup would not meet some definitions of a disaster recovery system, but he says it covers most of his needs because the applications aren't mission-critical.

Hecht downplays resistance to cloud-based disaster recovery, saying the smallest companies typically host their entire infrastructures in the cloud, and thus get some level of disaster recovery simply by keeping applications and data off-site.

Smaller companies that do choose the cloud typically don't do it for the savings, he says, but because "it's just so much simpler to have a system you set up and forget."

While midsize organizations have some incentive to consider disaster recovery in the cloud, few of them use the cloud for mission-critical systems that require true disaster recovery -- and what they get in the cloud is closer to dedicated hosting (with the customer's data and systems running on separate hardware) rather than a multitenant, elastic, pay-as-you-go public cloud, Hecht says.

Most large organizations are big enough to provide disaster recovery themselves, he says, and even if they weren't, "there's no good solution" for protecting sensitive applications in the cloud.

Cloud disaster recovery is also not suited for applications that rely on older platforms that most cloud providers don't offer, or large databases that don't perform well in the cloud, says Morency. Users also need to watch for the hidden costs of software licenses some cloud vendors charge for software sitting unused on remote VMs or disaster recovery systems, he says.

Both Gartner and Forrester also warn that most cloud disaster recovery providers will refund only a portion of a customer's fee if disaster recovery falls short -- nowhere near enough to make up for the potential revenue loss that such an event could cause.

The cost of the bandwidth required to quickly recover an organization's VMs and data from the cloud is often an unwelcome surprise, says Alan Arnold, executive vice president and CTO at Vision Solution Management, which provides high-availability and disaster recovery software and services. Some customers and providers opt to physically ship portable hard drives via overnight courier, says Arnold, recalling that one user joked that "FedEx is still the largest-bandwidth network out there."

With IT so central to the business and budgets so tight, it's essential to get input from top business managers to assess which applications deserve the highest levels of protection. Ingram Micro, for example, conducted a business impact analysis that put various applications in different tiers, with voice, email, ERP and ordering among the top priorities. The company thought of it "just like an insurance policy," says Mazor. "It helped us think of how much insurance we're going to buy."

Scheier is a veteran technology writer. You can contact him at bob@scheierassociates.com .

Read more about storage in Computerworld's Storage Topic Center.

This story, "Disaster Recovery on Double Duty" was originally published by Computerworld.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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