Is Cloud a Cost-Effective Option for Disaster Recovery and Backup?

Adnan Raja
by Atlantic.Net (183posts) under HIPAA Disaster Recovery
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A viable, proven and tested business continuity plan is essential for any modern professional organization. Two key elements make up a good business continuity plan, they are: have a robust and reliable backup solution and have the ability to invoke a disaster recovery solution in the event that the worst happens to critical IT systems.

Disaster recovery (DR) and backups are both services designed to provide continuous data protection; despite being distinct services, they work hand-in-hand with one another. DR is a business process or plan focused on quickly recovering service in the event of an outage, usually to a different geographical location. Backups allow the restoration of any system-state or file system objects to a previously saved checkpoint in accordance with the backup retention policy. Backups are also commonly used to restore objects to the original geographical location and can be a fall back option in case DR efforts are impaired.

What Counts as a Disaster?

A disaster can be caused by one of many scenarios that lead to a significant system outage which results in an organization’s inability to perform some or all their business roles and responsibilities. Such scenarios include an outage by loss of power, flooding, fire, terrorism or a natural disaster. A disaster can be defined as a situation where one or more vital systems, particularly IT systems, are non-functional for an extended period.

The scope of a disaster can vary for each scenario, but is usually as a result of a production infrastructure outage. This outage could be at a local or regional level and is usually the result of human error or catastrophic hardware failure.

What is a Backup?

Traditionally, backups would consist of an internally designed solution which would back up all your essential server and IT equipment locally. Typically, the data would then be offloaded to tape. The tapes might then be stored in multiple locations – onsite in a tape library or in a secure place such as a fire safe. A secondary copy would usually be sent offsite to an outsourced managed data handler, such as Iron Mountain.

Managing the backups would often be an administrative headache, as systems and processes would need to be developed to track the tape movements from the source tape libraries to the target vault destinations. You would also need to track the tape health and replace defective media. Overall, maintaining backups like this would have been a resource-intensive task.

What is Disaster Recovery?

Traditionally, disaster recovery would be a collection of failover servers designed to handle critical services in the event of disaster. Disaster recovery might have been handled in the same location but would hopefully have been provided in an external data center or colocation facility. These servers might be in a high availability cluster or a synchronous/asynchronous replication configuration.

How Does the Cloud Help with Disaster Recovery and Backup?

Both these traditional data center approaches have radically changed since the explosion of cloud computing. Today, disaster recovery and backups are offered by public and private cloud providers as a managed service. Any organization can leverage such services to harness the power of the cloud. The new approach guarantees a robust backup solution and fault tolerant infrastructure.

Managed service offerings provide the extreme flexibility of a cloud disaster recovery architecture and an automated backup and restore process. Most importantly, the technical challenges of providing such a service are outsourced to someone else, typically a managed service provider. The managed service provider, or MSP, is now responsible for provision of a proven backup strategy and a seamlessly integrated disaster recovery solution.

The cost of utilizing cloud computing to implement DR and backup measures is typically much cheaper than doing it yourself. Disaster recovery is a very difficult technical solution to architect and provide a guaranteed service resiliency. Such a substantiated service requires a gargantuan financial investment by the managed service provider to train and support a team of technical experts to monitor, manage and maintain the service for all its clients.

With a cloud DR solution, you can leverage a managed disaster recovery service (DRaaS) that has been architected to provide clients guaranteed uptimes within a predetermined service level agreement. The service level is defined by an RTO and RPO strategy.

Recovery Time Objective (RTO) is the maximum tolerable time taken to recover IT systems after a disaster scenario is declared. Recovery Point Objective (RPO) is the measure of the maximum acceptable data loss recorded by time. It is the maximum allowed age of data files when recovering the service.

Some examples of cloud disaster recovery software platforms are CloudEndure, Velostrata or VMware SRM. These software defined solutions act as abstraction layers which sit on top of a vast array of computing hardware. Within such a setup, there are many servers acting as hosts, which means a significant investment in scalable, replicated super-fast storage and ultra-fast high-speed network fabric connecting everything together is required.

All this investment will be duplicated in a secondary site or region, which in total represents a tremendous financial outlay. One major advantage of using a cloud provider is that there is no need to worry about the initial capital expenditure, as the cloud services offer a pay-as-you-go service where you only pay for the compute, storage and the network bandwidth utilization you need.

The costs to implement your own backup solutions are like those associated with disaster recovery. One of the biggest costs for backup systems is storage; this is where your business-critical data is housed. You would also need to invest in powerful backup servers and a dedicated backup network so that your backup network traffic doesn’t bottleneck your entire infrastructure and slow everything down.

Furthermore, you would need to employ a team to manage the backup environment. This team is responsible for monitoring backup completion, re-running any failed backups, running restores, updating backup policies, and completing regular test restores. Overall, there is no doubt the cost would be significant if you did all this by yourself, and greater still would be the cost of the loss of all your organization’s mission critical data if something went wrong and recovery was not possible.

Because of these implications, outsourcing backups to the cloud is becoming increasingly popular. You have a resource pool of technical experts available at the cloud provider to fix any backup issues, and the service provider is responsible for backing up and restoring all your data in a pre-agreed backup policy schedule where you decide exactly what gets backed up and how often.

Similarly, with DR, the cloud provider is responsible for the technical experts and keeping the disaster recovery system policies updated. This includes determination of the servers and systems in scope for failover should a disaster strike, what sequence to bring up the newly provisioned DR services, and when you failover core networking services to point to the DR location. The DR solution also needs to be tested at least annually, and the cloud provider can help coordinate this action with your organization’s internally responsible personnel.

When choosing disaster recovery as a service, there will be additional charges for compute and storage in the secondary location. These servers may never be used outside of testing, but their cost still needs to be accounted as part of the DR plan. Some organizations may feel that this is an unnecessary cost, but it is important to consider the impact of losing your production systems.

As an example, if an ecommerce site goes down and there is no disaster recovery solution in place, the site will generate zero revenue during any outage – however, with a disaster recovery solution, the services will fail over to a secondary site and the website will continue to function. Any unexpected outages or downtime can result in a substantial loss of sales, a weaker brand perception, less business productivity and the possibility of loyal customers looking elsewhere for services – most likely to your direct competitors.

If you’re looking to back up your organization’s critical data or need to protect your organization’s operations in the event of a disaster, the cloud is a useful and comparatively cost-effective option for hosting a disaster recovery and backup solution. Choose a hosting partner with experience handling disaster recovery and backup as a managed service. Find out more today about how Atlantic.Net can help.

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