Count your blessings: Cloud options for Disaster Recovery

Alexandra Gheorghe

June 17, 2014

Count your blessings: Cloud options for Disaster Recovery

You are part of an industry leading organization with thousands of customers, but do you have a plan-B? Organizations of all budgets and sizes are looking for an efficient and reliable backup option, but without the headaches and costs of traditional disaster recovery. In this context, the cloud makes a great alternative. One of the most heavily hyped technologies of the last decade, the cloud can act as a secondary data center to help your organization recover data and systems quickly after any kind of interruption. An earthquake or an unexpected data breach might happen to you.

Why do you need an IT DR plan?

In simple terms, how much data can you afford to lose? Disaster recovery from an IT perspective ensures you have everything it takes to support the availability of your websites, data and applications which are critical to successfully operating your business, in the case of a disruptive incident.

Evolving architecture technologies. Businesses rely heavily on their IT infrastructures, so making sure data can be recovered in a timely manner when disaster hits can determine the long-term survival of your organization.

More natural disasters. As unlikely as they may seem, unanticipated and devastating natural disasters such as hurricanes, tsunamis or fires have caused delays, power outages and complete shut-down’s of businesses and their websites in the last few years. Since data centers are spread all over the world, it's not a bad idea to take advantage of locating your primary recovery data center in a region with low risk of natural disasters.

Outsourcing challenges. Partnering with a third-party vendor brings its own business-facing concerns. Your data needs to be in the hands of a third-party that knows about complying with data regulations and training staff on handling your sensitive data in the event of a security breach. But in this scenario, there are things out of your control, and perhaps the trust of your customers is too important.

Changing regulatory requirements. Organizations and their IT departments face ongoing pressure to comply with industry legal and regulatory demands. Failing to do so can result in federal fines, legal fees, and even criminal charges.

Dynamic threat landscape. Every customer record lost or stolen in a data breach is worth USD $145, according to a Ponemon Institute Study. And with an impressive list of business-targeted hacks making the headlines in the last 12 months, it's easy to imagine how having a backup solution helps businesses save millions.


Traditional vs. Cloud-based DR

So far, traditional approaches to disaster recovery have proven to be expensive, time-consuming and sometimes unreliable, forcing businesses to look for other ways to store their data.

Your options for disaster recovery depend on two things: your recovery time objective (RTO) which you set based on how fast you need to recover from a potential disaster, and your budget. If, for instance, you need your data back in a 5-day time frame, you can opt for off-site backup, which will cost you less than an urgent 5-minute solution, also known as hot site disaster recovery. Performing backup directly to the cloud depends on the volumes of data.

Imagine a business with two data centers, thousands of servers, hundreds of circuits, network devices, racks and cages, and dozens of employees scattered worldwide, going through an extended power outage in a primary site. If the business relies solely on a traditional backup solution, the data takes days to be restored to the remote site location configured for such situations. Servers need to be loaded with each individual component: the operating system, the applications, as well as their latest patches.

Another option would be to reload your entire backup on an identical hardware platform, which, even with reconfigured hardware and software at-the-ready, is expensive, time-consuming, and prone to error.

Leveraging the cloud and virtualization for DR

Cloud-based disaster recovery (DR) helps your organization store its data and remain agile through a number of replication methods. These can involve entire virtual machines, specific databases, or just data points (such as transaction status). The cloud offers you flexibility; you decide how much downtime your organization can tolerate and at what cost.

Virtualization is a great a mechanism for backup and recovery. Using virtualization, a complete computing environment, including the operating system, applications, patches and data are enclosed in a virtual container. Encapsulation makes virtual machines very portable and easy to manage. A server can be copied or backed-up to an off-site data center entirely, and spun-up on a virtual host in minutes. Since the virtual server doesn’t rely on hardware, its contents can be safely transferred from one data center to another without reloading each component of the server.

What's best for you: a hot site, a cold site or something in between? Is software-based replication a better option than hardware based replication? Take a moment to think about what you really need. If you own several critical servers in your data center running applications that you can’t afford to see down and which need fast recovery, SAN-to-SAN replication may be an attractive option.

Cloning the entire network (except for the hardware) and security configuration between the production and disaster recovery site, in near real-time, saves you the time and hard work needed to configure VLAN, firewall rules and VPNs before the backup site can go live. For private clouds, SAN-to-SAN replication promises fast recovery times and seamless failback once the disaster has been mitigated and the production data center is up and running again.

Think about highly transactional email servers with SQL/custom databases or Terabytes of FTP file servers. Instead of uploading every single item, you can use a SAN snapshot which allows you to back up large amounts of data efficiently, and with little impact on production. If you need a backup of your FTP servers at any time, day or night, you can leverage a snapshot in just seconds. Snapshotting can copy the entire data set, but doing so can be bandwidth-intensive and often gives a less granular set of rollback options.

However, to achieve seamless DR, the reality today is that the cloud-based disaster recovery provider should manage both the production cloud servers and disaster recovery cloud servers. And that is where the process becomes a bit troublesome.

To sum up, cloud-based DR seems great for storing and retrieving any amount of data, at any time, from anywhere. Taking these ideas into consideration, what are your thoughts? Would you give cloud-based DR a GO, or are there too many roadblocks today?

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Alexandra Gheorghe

Alexandra has a mind for mystery and an eye for detail. She is fortunate enough to have a job that requires both - writing security news for the HotForSecurity blog powered by Bitdefender. With a background in PR and marketing, Alexandra scours the realms of enterprise security seeking to shed light on the challenges businesses are facing today.

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