IT is increasing its focus on disaster recovery (DR) and business continuity (BC) largely due to natural disasters that have occurred in the past year. However, the majority of IT failures and loss of applications is due to hardware errors and simple human error. How can IT plan for these unexpected outages? IT administrators need an insurance policy — a DR plan — for their company data, applications, and infrastructure that will automatically start when an error occurs. Similar to how a homeowner carries house insurance to protect against unplanned events, the DR plan serves as IT’s insurance plan for data and infrastructure.
|LACK OF CUSTOMIZATION|
|SIGNIFICANT STORAGE INVESTMENT|
|INABILITY TO TEST DR PLANS|
|RECOVERY IS LIMITED TO SINGLE MACHINE|
|RECOVERY REQUIRES DUPLICATE ARCHITECTURE|
This plan must go beyond just protecting the data or content stored within the infrastructure. Data is only good as long as the applications and servers it runs on are working. Thus, today’s DR plans must go beyond the traditional data backup mentality. Applications, servers, and systems — the entire data center infrastructure — must be protected at off-site locations where companies can restore IT operations at the flick of a switch. The challenge is how to implement DR successfully into today’s increasingly complex environments, since traditional data protection methods cannot scale easily to handle massive data growth.
Many administrators fear losing data and critical IT services. When a server crashes and a vital application such as email is offline, IT faces extreme pressure to get these services back online as quickly and seamlessly as possible. The stress mounts during this time as executives peek over the shoulders of the administrators awaiting the reinstatement of servers and resumption of normal business operations. Even with tighter IT budgets and reduced staffing, companies rely heavily on IT to keep everything operational 24/7/365, as each hour of downtime could potentially cost millions of dollars in lost revenue, yield lost productivity, and damage to company reputation.
By automating the DR process, IT administrators can sleep easier at night knowing that if something goes wrong at 2:00 a.m., they won’t have to rush into the office in their pajamas with hair sticking up all over their heads. Rather, they could press a button to start the recovery process and proceed in at a more leisurely pace. However, IT administrators are fearful of trusting in automated DR plans to recover these systems; there is a perception that they will lose control over the process. IT administrators retain full control over the DR process as they configure the automated system. Simply put, automated DR mechanizes the traditionally time-consuming manual recovery process. So instead of an administrator sitting hunched over a computer for hours recovering and rebooting the system, the technology does it automatically. With automated DR, companies can recover systems within minutes, rather than hours or days, with minimal hands-on work.
There are six main fears IT administrators have regarding automated DR, each one stemming from a myth rather than a fact. We will thoroughly examine each of these points and clearly state the facts of automated DR. Armed with this knowledge, IT managers can make an educated decision about how automated DR will benefit their companies and reduce their overall anxiety levels.
Often one of the biggest fears of an IT administrator is about lack of customization. Each environment is different with custom applications, legacy systems, and a mix of physical and virtual elements. Many believe there is no clear or easy way to apply an automated solution to such a complex and varied environment. In reality, true automated DR systems work within heterogeneous environments that consist of physical and virtual appliances and applications. IT administrators can easily customize the recovery time objectives (RTO) for each application, database, and server. They can also specify the recovery point for each machine, allowing for failover to occur between physical-to-physical, virtual-to-physical, physical-to-virtual and virtual-to-virtual machines without any interruption.
Many feel that automated DR requires a significant storage vendor investment. There must be a duplicate storage infrastructure created and waiting at an off-site location to receive the replicated information. The purchase of the secondary hardware requires additional capital expenditure costs that may not have been realized in the design of the project. However, this is not the case. Automated DR solutions can use any storage type, and therefore do not require the same type of iSCSI or fibre channel connection at the secondary site. These solutions work with service providers or those firms with private clouds to move data over the Internet to various cloud-based offsite locations. Automated DR enables organizations to easily create private cloud storage environments.
IT administrators believe that data replication is just as good as DR. The data is replicated at certain intervals during the day and everything is protected in the event of a hardware failure or natural disaster. In reality, automated DR systems protect more than just the data. When data is replicated, it only covers the data at the storage level of the organization. The applications and servers needed to run this replicated data are not protected or automatically recovered. Automated DR ensures that the applications and infrastructure upon which the data resides are working and recovered in minutes along with the files. In the face of an immediate disaster, even if the company has the information replicated to a secondary site, if it does not have the secondary servers or machines on which to run that data, the company is exposed to immediate downtime and recovery failure.
DR plans must be continually updated and tested — at a minimum, each quarter — to ensure that infrastructure can be brought back online in the event of a failure. These tests must encompass the entire infrastructure and not just the recovery of specific data sets or applications. IT administrators feel that automated DR programs lack the ability to test a full, end-to-end recovery scenario properly without causing significant downtime for production resources. However, automated DR actually requires full DR testing to happen easily. IT administrators have the choice to select those automated DR programs that allow for full DR tests to occur within the secondary environment or at off-peak hours. By simplifying the testing procedures, IT administrators will test more frequently and be better prepared for a failure.
When every second counts and productivity is being lost during an outage of a machine or entire infrastructure, it is critical that IT can restore multiple machines and systems simultaneously rather than one at a time. It is true that there are some automated DR systems that only allow that one step process, which strengthens this perception with IT administrators. And when there is an entire data center outage, companies are left with an elaborate, time-consuming process of restoring each machine individually. In reality, advanced automated DR systems allow for IT to recover multiple machines and complete IT services within minutes. When recovering multiple machines — up to five at a time — IT should allow for mission-critical services to be restored within minutes, significantly reducing downtime for applications, systems, and data.
IT administrators feel that the recovery of both physical and virtual servers using the same automated DR service is impossible. They must have the exact replica of their data center at the recovery site and then again when they restore data at the original data center. This myth stems from the perception that physical and virtual failover and failback of systems requires multiple applications — and that the failback or data center restore process requires simultaneous, multiple steps and complex operations over an extended period of time. The purpose of an automated DR system is to recover the data and systems quickly. It should not depend on the type of machine — physical or virtual — to operate. Thus, IT must choose a solution that can recover back to physical or virtual environments regardless of how the original data center was configured.
The adoption of automated DR is rising given that the traditional methods of backup and data replication are not feasible for today’s businesses, which have to operate around the clock. As pointed out in the myths above, the method of just replicating data to a tape or off-site location does not work because although the data is saved, employees cannot access it without the applications and servers on which it runs. As these myths point out, automated DR technology is significantly advancing, making each of these concerns non-existent. Rather, automated DR ensures that any IT downtime is kept to a minimum and customers are not affected.
The automation of mission-critical programs, such as DR, is critical to ensuring that a company continues to operate regardless of any human or IT failure or natural disaster. Automated DR is not something that should be feared by IT managers but rather embraced, as it will reduce the burden of rushing into the office at a moment’s notice to fix an issue or facing the problem of lost data and IT downtime. Automation removes the limitations of time and errors from the manual restoration of services at the off-site DR location or when the system is restored in the original data center. It also allows for IT administrators to restore just one machine or one IT service as needed or the entire infrastructure if a more catastrophic failure occurs. The future of DR technology is based on automating these processes. IT administrators must begin to push past the myths and accept these technologies into their infrastructures, not only for their own peace of mind, but to ensure operations continue smoothly year-round.