Outsourcing Degrees of Disaster Recovery

Disaster recovery services are more than just insurance policies companies begrudgingly buy for their own peace of mind

Disaster recovery services are more than just insurance policies companies begrudgingly buy for their own peace of mind; eWeek Labs believes these services should be seen as the cornerstone of business preservation.

With the evolution of the Internet and online businesses, downtime has become a potentially costly hazard that can quickly drive customers to competitors (just ask MSN and Amazon.com). Data loss in high-transaction environments has become inexcusable.

Recovery service providers offer the expertise required to toughen up mission-critical systems at companies of all sizes. With nationwide networks and arsenals of standby servers and mainframes at the ready, these companies can quickly revive businesses when disaster strikes.

Until recently, at most companies, disaster recovery began and ended with daily tape backups, a tried-and-true process that has been around since the dawn of business computing. However, in the event of a hardware failure, incremental data that hasnt been backed up is lost.

Worse still, in the event of a large-scale disaster such as a severe earthquake or hurricane, companies that dont have off-site tape storage centers and replacement servers could suffer complete data loss and the paralysis of key business services.

Types of Services

Depending on a customers acceptable thresholds for downtime and data loss, a wide variety of services are now available, ranging from basic system recovery to hosting services with guaranteed uptime.

System recovery is the most basic service that can be purchased. Costs vary widely depending on the amount of data being recovered and on the service-level agreement—anywhere from several thousand dollars to more than $1 million.

Most system recovery services are outsourced tape-backup and restoration arrangements in which the provider monitors all backup activities and stores redundant backup copies at geographically dispersed data centers. This service is often a good fit for small companies that dont have geographically dispersed offices.

System recovery services usually complete restoration within 48 hours (depending on the service-level agreement and the amount of data restored) but also have the largest potential for data loss.

High-availability services can get companies up and running in anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of hours (depending on the level of service purchased) and often guarantee zero data loss. These options can easily cost $1 million: Customers often have data that is worth substantially more than the machinery on which it resides.

An excellent example of a high-availability implementation would be the Philadelphia Stock Exchange, which relies on SunGard Data Systems Inc. to protect its stock exchange servers.

The core of this system is EMC Corp.s Symmetrix Remote Data Facility, a data mirroring system that duplicates production data to physically separate target systems hosted at SunGards Philadelphia data center.

To transfer data from the Philadelphia Stock Exchange to SunGards recovery site, SunGard set up a Synchronous Optical Network ring between the two sites. In the event of a system failure, a mainframe at SunGards site is activated and the stock exchange service is re-established with zero data loss.

The third, most rock-solid option is continuity service, in which the production servers of a business are stored at the client site and at a recovery center. This arrangement is even more expensive than those mentioned above, because it often includes leasing servers and storage capacity.

In this scenario, processing is done at both locations. Load balancers delegate tasks equally to both sites.

In the event of a network failure or a disaster at the customer site, the application will continue to run at the parallel recovery center.

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