Why Disaster Recovery Isn't an Option Anymore

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2011-07-18

Why Disaster Recovery Isn't an Option Anymore

In a perfect world, recovering a company's data and getting it back into production after a major disaster would be fast and automatic. Got some news for you: Even "good enough" is rare in this world, never mind "perfect."

First of all, industry analysts from Gartner and IDC say that 30 to 40 percent of all IT shops either have no disaster recovery system in place or do not know how to use it correctly. Second, even if a shop does have a DR apparatus in place and tests it occasionally, there are plenty of examples of such systems not performing according to plan.

In the world of data recovery, the data is the easy part, the recovery can be hellish, and IT administrators are the ones commissioned with connecting the dots. Enterprises laid up for extensive periods of time due to IT knockouts do not have a glittering record of surviving, so there's more than a modicum of pressure involved here. The National Archives and Records Administration reported in 2010 that 93 percent of enterprises whose data centers were down for 10 days or more due to a disaster filed for bankruptcy within one year of the disaster.

The term "data recovery disaster" defines a situation in which an extended power outage forces an enterprise to recover its data and files from an alternate location-whether that is within the enterprise's physical system or in a cloud backup and recovery service. A short-term power outage or failure of an individual server, or even a rack of servers, isn't generally considered a data recovery disaster.

Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, the March 2011 earthquake off the coast of Japan, and the recent flooding in the Midwest are well-known examples of multidimensional disasters that affected scores of IT systems. The most common cause of IT failure? By far, it's human error, whether involving a power supply or IT production itself.

Simple Guidelines

What are some important general DR guidelines for an enterprise-any size enterprise? They're simple, at least in concept:

  • Find a system that fits your business and implement it. Don't laugh; many companies don't have one.
  • Select a system that includes snapshots, mirroring and/or replication to a separate location, whether that location is within the confines of the physical enterprise or a cloud-service package.
  • Test the system on a regular basis, even if it involves just a portion of the system at a time. 

DR systems vary greatly. Along with major advancements in the last five to six years in system storage capacity and overall data protection, there have been great advancements in recovery methodology.

It should be noted that backup storage alone is not a DR plan.  Most companies do back up their data, but that doesn't cover getting applications, networking, cloud services and everything else back up and running with the stored data.

If your company's DR plan consists of backing up files every so often and then yelling "Help!" to your IT department or a service provider when an outage occurs, then you need a real DR plan.

Why Disaster Recovery Isn't an Option Anymore

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A recent use case about a DR system that performed exactly the way it was designed to work is revelatory of the "perfect world" discussed here.

ReadyOne Industries of El Paso, Texas, is a multifaceted manufacturing company that makes uniforms (among other things) for the federal government. It recently deployed an encrypted Nasuni storage gateway appliance as a restorer for its entire system.

Nasuni has a virtual NAS file server/front end called Nasuni Filer that runs on VMware and uses publicly available cloud resources-Amazon S3, Nirvanex and Rackspace-to handle primary data cloud storage. "The cloud, with its great efficiencies of scale, is the future for all file storage," Nasuni CEO and Co-founder Andres Rodriguez, a former archive director of The New York Times, told eWEEK.

This cloud storage gateway saved ReadyOne's bacon earlier this year. The company was using the Nasuni Filer for all 300 of its employees' XenDesktop home directories.

"We ended up with a SAN hardware failure-some due to human error, some due to environmental issues," said IT Manager Jesus Torres. "The failure put our SAN into a recovery mode for what was going to be about two weeks, but we couldn't live two weeks without our data.

"Because Nasuni had snapshots of our system stored in its cloud, we were able to decrypt everything using a backup key that Nasuni had kept in escrow for us. We were able to get back on line in short order."

A system like Nasuni's also can scale up to handle larger systems as necessary, Rodriguez said. However, there are a number of offerings from other providers that may fit certain systems better than others.

For example, Hewlett-Packard (HP), through its Information Management Software and Services division, is a global service provider that can take an enterprise located anywhere in the world from assessment to DR readiness within a few weeks, June Manley, global marketing director, told eWEEK.

DR Falls Through the Cracks

Industry experts have known this fact for a long time: DR software, services and the policies to govern them are now mandatory for most companies to remain in business when disaster strikes.

"DR isn't an option anymore," Manley said. "Still, some companies are not applying the right protection policies. You scratch your head and wonder why people are not protecting their data as they should. This is IT 101. But DR tends to fall through the cracks when businesses have other things to worry about. "

Even though HP offers full-service information management hardware, software and services to go with several data recovery options, the first aspect of an IT system that it examines focuses on the people responsible for decision making and system execution.

"The first thing we do is bring all the stakeholders to the table and get them to understand that people and the technology are equally important in information management," Manley explained. "We ask them: What information are you generating? How important is that information to you? Are you setting the right protection and retention policies? How do you manage that information based on its business value?"

Only after these questions are answered can the design and installation of a reliable DR apparatus be implemented, Manley added.

From a larger perspective, these are questions that every enterprise needs to ask.  The answers are going to go a long way toward determining how well and how quickly an organization will recover from the virtually inevitable disaster that will strike at some point.

Fortunately, there are a number of reputable DR software, hardware and service providers like Nasuni and HP from which to choose. They include Acronis, CommVault, Dell, EMC, IBM, Seagate's i365, Sungard, VMware and others.

The key is to engage one of these vendors before the next disaster happens-and, rest assured, it will happen.


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