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Disaster Recovery (DR) and Business Continuity

With downtime leading to reputational damage, lost trade and productivity loss, organisations are starting to realise continuity planning and disaster recovery are critical to success. Business continuity needs to be properly planned, tested and reviewed in order to be successful. For most businesses, planning for disaster recovery will raise more questions than answers to begin with, but doing the hard work now will save a lot of pain in the future.

Ascertain the appetite for risk

All businesses are different when it comes to risk. While some may view a ransomware attack as a minor inconvenience, dealt with by running on paper for a week while they rebuild systems, whereas others view any sort of downtime as unacceptable.

The individual risk appetite of your organisation will have a significant impact on how you plan and prepare for business continuity. You will need to consider your sector, size, and attitude towards downtime, verses cost and resources. Assessing this risk appetite will let you judge where to allocate resources, and focus your priorities.

Plan, plan and plan some more

To properly plan for disaster recovery, it is critical to consider all aspects of a business continuity event, together with the impact of it, and how to mitigate these.

For example, if power goes down in the organisation’s headquarters, so will the landline phones, but mobiles will still be functional. A way to mitigate this impact would be to reroute the office phone number to another office or a mobile at headquarters. To do that you need to consider where you store the information about how to do that, and who knows where it is.

This is just one example. You need to consider all the risks, and all the technology and processes that you use. Consider the plan, the risk, the solution and where you need to invest and strengthen your plan to ensure your business can still function in the event of a disaster.

Build in blocks and test rigorously

Ideally IT solutions will be built and tested in blocks, so you can consider the risks and solutions in a functional way.

Plans for each then need to be tested in a rigorous way with likely scenarios. What if, for example, a particular machine fails? What happens if the power supply cuts out? What happens in the case of a crypto virus? Do you have back-ups? Are they on site? Do you have a failover set-up in case of system failure? Is the second system on site or in a completely different geography? What do I with my staff – can they work from home? Are there enough laptops?

These will drive out and validate (or not) assumptions on managing during a business continuity event. For example if your company is infected with a crypto virus and has infected the main servers, it will also have replicated across to your other sites, therefore your only option is to restore from back-ups or have a technology solution that allows you to roll back before the virus was unleashed.

Cloud is not the only answer

It can be tempting to think cloud can solve all the problems, but that is not always the case. Data in the cloud is not automatically backed up and is not necessarily replicated to a second site. These are options on some public cloud services, but they are often expensive and under used, as a result.

Despite being cloud-based, a company’s application environment can still get a virus and become corrupted. If you have not put the IT systems in place to back that data up, then it will be lost. If for example, the cloud goes down, you need to consider a failover system.

The interesting part of this is the public cloud doesn’t go down very often, but when it does it is impossible to tell you how long it will be out of action for. Businesses must therefore consider when to invoke disaster recover in that instance.

Know your core systems

One solution that some companies adopt is running core systems and storage on infrastructure that they know and trust. This means knowing where it is and what it is, so it meets their performance criteria. Businesses also consider how this system is backed up including what network it is plugged into, ensuring it has a wireless router as standby, that the failover system is at least 50 miles away on a separate IP provider, that the replication is tested and that the data protection technology works and is tested.

This gives business much better knowledge and control in a business continuity event such as a power outage. Businesses can get direct feedback about the length of outage meaning they have better visibility and ability to make the right decisions.

Plan and prioritise

When making a plan you need to consider the risks and your objectives. A useful approach towards technology can be to consider how it can help mitigate these risks and help you meet your objectives. When considering budget, there is no upper limit to what you can spend, instead focus on your priorities and then have the board sign them off.

Spending a day brainstorming is a good way of working out what concerns your organisation the most and what will have the most detrimental impact should it go wrong. Needless to say, something that has a high risk of impact needs to be prioritised. In terms of the executor of any business continuity plan, as the saying goes, don’t put your eggs in one basket – involving numerous people and hence ensuring more than one person is trained in the business continuity plan will significantly mitigate the impact of any event.

FlipServe DRaaS benefits

Disaster recovery as a service has emerged over the past several years as an increasingly popular method for backing up vital data and applications, as well as for providing immediate system failover to a secondary infrastructure. While the technology is still relatively , numerous DRaaS benefits continue to draw interest.

"As more and more IT is provided as a service, it simply makes sense that disaster recovery should become yet another of those services," said Richard Butgereit, director of catastrophe response at the Geospatial Intelligence Center. But conforming to the as-a-service model is not the only reason disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS) is gaining traction.

  • Speed
    DRaaS provides a much faster, automated and more reliable recovery operation than traditional DR approaches."DRaaS solutions leverage data replication technologies, as well as automated and orchestrated recovery, to provide aggressive recovery point objectives and recovery time objectives," said Joseph George, vice president of product management for global recovery services at Sungard Availability Services. "Many of the newer generation DRaaS solutions that leverage the public cloud provide increased flexibility and offer a usage-based cost model that allows you to pay only for the resources you actually use."
  • Lower cost and enhanced reliability
    One of the more persuasive DRaaS benefits out there is the potential for lower costs. Many IT services traditionally performed on premises are now available in the form of as-a-service offerings. DRaaS joins infrastructure as a service, platform as a service and software as a service as a popular cloud alternative to a traditional technology. DRaaS provides a much faster, automated and more reliable recovery operation than traditional DR approaches. "These cloud-based services inherit high availability and disaster recovery capabilities natively," said Ted Wagner, vice president and chief information security officer for SAP National Security Services. Any organization attempting to handle DR on its own will face additional costs and will have to invest in infrastructure and capital expenses.

"Large upfront costs and high monthly bills have kept many customers from benefiting from DR services," said Praveen Gadura, Senior Vice President of data protection platform strategy at FlipServe Inc. "DRaaS has emerged as the next major leap in the overall data protection portfolio, and many backup companies are now offering DRaaS as a complement to cloud-based backup."

  • Improved administration
    Using DRaaS lowers the administrative burden placed on IT and frees up team members to handle tasks that provide greater business value. "DR is seldom seen as providing significant value to the business and, thus, companies are reluctant to spend money and time on running a comprehensive DR program," said John, director of cloud specialist at FlipServe. "By engaging with DRaaS, you no longer need to commit those resources and, in all likelihood, the cost of DRaaS will be less than what you would pay to manage and maintain a solution yourself."
  • Seamless redundancy and scalability
    One of the major DRaaS benefits is peace of mind, as there are generally no loose ends to chase or worry about. "Your data is stored in multiple places -- no more single point of failure," said David Stills, director of IT at Saalex Solutions, a managed IT services provider for small- to medium-sized businesses. "Since DRaaS is on a virtual platform, it can grow or shrink on demand." DRaaS not only provides cost-effective redundancy for all critical business information systems, but it also enables routine validation testing.

FlipServe public cloud IaaS simplifies and accelerates the DR process and cuts costs by replacing standby hardware with on-demand cloud resources. If the primary hosting site fails, disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS) systems automatically launch applications by initiating the necessary cloud infrastructure, installing application images, and attaching databases and volumes.

Later, when a primary site comes back online, the DRaaS software synchronizes data from the remote location, triggers a restart of applications at the primary site and decommissions virtual infrastructure at the secondary cloud site.

AWS

AWS filled a hole in its portfolio when it acquired CloudEndure in 2019, whose products now comprise AWS' cloud-based disaster recovery and workload migration offerings. CloudEndure DR agents can replicate workloads from on-premises or other IaaS environments to AWS or between AWS regions. It provides:

  • Continuous data replication;
  • A low-cost workload staging area using only enough AWS compute and storage resources to support data replication;
  • Automated machine conversion from the native format to a supported AWS instance and image;
  • Support for popular enterprise software, operating systems and cloud environments, including Azure, GCP, IBM Cloud, Oracle Cloud, OpenStack and VMware;
  • Point-in-time recovery, i.e., ability to recover to either the most current application state or some prior time; and
  • Non-disruptive DR testing.

AZURE

Similar to Amazon, Microsoft used an acquisition to bolster its DRaaS product. However, it had the foresight to do so back in 2014 when it folded business continuity technology from InMage into Azure Site Recovery.

Administrators can replicate applications from on-premises systems running on Azure Stack or another virtualization platform. Site Recovery can also replicate between Azure cloud regions or even from AWS Windows instances to Azure. Like CloudEndure, it supports on-demand creation of VM instances during recovery incidents, non-disruptive DR testing, and customized targets for recovery point objectives and recovery time objectives.

Site Recovery also supports customized recovery plans and runbooks that can use Azure Automation or PowerShell scripts for complex scenarios. These can be used as part of Site Recovery plans, which defines the sequence where machines fail over and restart to accommodate applications with many dependencies.

GOOGLE CLOUD (GCP)

Google Cloud does not offer a packaged DRaaS. Instead, it provides documentation on cloud-based disaster recovery planning and how to use GCP services as a DR platform. Aside from its IaaS products, Google's documentation focuses on various automation tools to eliminate manual DR processes when replicating and failing over from an external environment. GCP services useful to a DIY DR process include:

  • Cloud Monitoring and Cloud Status Dashboard for application monitoring, metrics and events;
  • Cloud Deployment Manager to automatically create GCP environments from predefined templates; and
  • Third-party infrastructure templating and configuration management software with GCP support such as Ansible, Chef and Terraform.

The GCP partner directory also lists several companies that provide DRaaS or DR managed services on top of GCP infrastructure.

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