A DRaaStic solution when disaster strikes

29 July 2015

Sungard AS’ newly opened workplace recovery centre in central London has capacity for 700 workers. The firm says it spent £4 million last year upgrading its nationwide facilities.

Sungard AS’ newly opened workplace recovery centre in central London has capacity for 700 workers. The firm says it spent £4 million last year upgrading its nationwide facilities.

Without a functioning computer and communications network, very few companies, if any, could operate at all. It is therefore crucial for all organisations to have a business continuity (BC) and disaster recovery (DR) plan in case the worst happens and their usual operational locations become inaccessible. 

In such circumstances, a number of different companies can help by providing specially kitted-out business continuity centres. For example, Sungard Availability Services (AS) has 26 workplace area recovery locations throughout the UK, Europe and India. The firm says the types of disruptions that lead people to come to them include power outages, water leaks, fire, weather disruptions and terror threats. 

IBM also has at least 17 such centres dotted around the country. But Alex Reardon, the company’s director of resiliency services for UK and Ireland, points out: “As the wave of digital transformation sweeps every aspect of the modern enterprise, a traditional disaster recovery approach of ‘just being able to recover’ is no longer sufficient.”

He believes BC & DR are more than just an IT problem for companies, and says that not being accessible is a significant brand reputation challenge when today’s customers expect services to be ‘always on’. 

“While IT can have a lead role in advising the business, C-suite executives must also shoulder the responsibility of understanding how the availability of services affects their business. They have to be prepared to invest in the availability and resilience required. Business continuity plans now have to consider reputational risk as a fundamental objective.”

With so much at stake, business managers not only need to plan for all eventualities, they must also ensure such plans work. According to Veeam, which specialises in software for what it describes as the “always-on business”, one of the main issues enterprise face when implementing a BC & DR solution is that they haven’t been configured properly. 

“This can lead to a significant slowdown in the system and slower recovery times,” warns Doug Hazelman, Veeam’s VP of product strategy. “It is essential that businesses invest time in configuring recovery solutions so they can operate an always-on business that doesn’t suffer downtime as a result of slow recovery times. As with any new solution, the system will only be as good as you’ve tested.”

Sungard AS agrees. It believes that recovery is a holistic process that should encompass not only the technology, but also people and processes. 

Daren Howell, the firm’s proposition marketing manager, points out that a business continuity management (BCM) plan needs to go beyond simply writing up a new company policy. 

“BCM plans need to be tested and rehearsed to the point where they become intuitive – second nature, no less. Everyone across the business needs to know what is expected of them, and what their role and responsibilities are when disruption or crisis occurs.

“Planning needs be dynamic and revised frequently. No organisation is static, so if it is changing or growing (and let’s face it, all healthy businesses do), then so should your BCM planning.”

Cloudier outlook 

Disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS) is predicted to dominate growth in the cloud service market for the next few years, with some forecasting it will overtake traditional data recovery services within a year.

Figures vary: according to Transparency Market Research, the global DRaaS market is worth $621m (£407m) and is set to grow 36 per cent annually until 2022; Sandler Research says the market will increase at 53 per cent a year through to 2019. In its ‘Magic Quadrant’ for DRaaS published in April, Gartner estimates the total size of the global market to be around $19.2 billion. The firm says: “By 2018, the number of organisations using DRaaS will exceed the number of organisations using traditional, syndicated recovery services.”

Sungard AS was acknowledged by Gartner as a leader in its recent DRaaS Magic Quadrant. Howell says: “DRaaS is certainly the way forward, at least for the next 5-10 years. Given how quickly the business landscape has changed it would be somewhat short-sighted to regard any single solution as a ‘silver bullet’, but as it stands DRaaS is the perfect solution for those with complex IT systems – including across potentially many locations or geographies.” 

He adds that automation and virtualisation allows businesses to seamlessly move workloads between their production and recovery environments, which helps remove human error. “It’s faster, more accurate and it will do what you planned for it to do when disruption occurs. Being a cloud-based solution also means that organisations can scale up and down based on their business needs, addressing a full range of recovery time and recovery point objectives – and, more pertinently, their business ones.”

Veeam’s Hazelman reckons a key advantage of DRaaS is that users don’t have to invest in their own data centres and can therefore avoid an initial capital investment. 

“Using DRaaS doesn’t require the same level of investment as a non-cloud solution, and savings can be made on costs such as upgrades in software and hardware which you aren’t likely to incur when using a cloud-based solution. 

He continues by saying the main emphasis of DRaaS is its round-the-clock availability. Whenever a customer is having an issue, such as a network failure and downtime, it can immediately switch to the backup and carry on as usual.

Of course, some companies can already do this on-site. But some of the possible differentiators of using a DRaaS provider are said to be faster data recovery, cost-effectiveness, round-the-clock support, and easy testing and automation. “DRaaS lends itself best to organisations that are data-intensive,” says Hazelman. “If a company is operating an always-on business where it’s essential that data is always available, DRaaS is essential.”

Dominic List, CEO of infrastructure monitoring solutions provider Aurora365, supports this view: “DRaaS is ideal for companies who need continuous protection of the data and applications that are essential for the operation of their critical business functions. DRaaS replicates your virtual machines and maintains standby copies on a resilient cloud virtualisation platform. With opex-based pricing, DRaaS offers a simple and cost-effective way to complement your investment in virtualisation and enhance your business continuity planning.”

Don’t just backup if you want to get back up

In an era where data reigns supreme, many experts warn that merely backing it up is no longer enough. “Organisations should not rely solely on backup to keep vital data safe from disasters. If they do, they could be disappointed,” says David Fisk, EMEA sales director at BC & DR specialist Quorum.

His advice is for organisations to ensure they have a strategic and full data recovery plan in place to migrate to recovery servers in other locations when a disaster occurs. “Additionally, it is important that organisations are aware of how to recover the data and that their users know how to reconnect to the environment.” 

Fisk also warns organisations against a temptation to minimise DR and treat it like an insurance premium. “The truth is that an effective DR strategy is much more than that. Any organisation that underestimates the importance of DR is in danger of failing to appreciate the vital role it plays in its business continuity. Simply put, without an effective DR strategy, there is no business continuity.”

He continues by saying that one of the main reasons why businesses are increasingly adopting DRaaS, and why the market is growing, is because customers have greater confidence that cloud-based solutions are becoming more secure. “Adopting cloud-based technologies doesn’t have to be risky or painful and it can bring advantages. For instance, an accredited Tier 3 data centre is often more secure than the average corporate data centre.”

Matt Kingswood, head of managed services at IT Specialists (ITS), says each individual business has different requirements, and BC & DR planners need to identify critical resources and processes using a business impact analysis. 

“Planners should define recovery time objectives [RTOs] and prioritise the recovery of business units, applications and supporting technical infrastructure. Once businesses understand their RTOs and recovery priorities, they can develop a documented recovery strategy and seek a third-party recovery services provider.

“The advantage of working with a third-party provider is that these companies are fully invested in the industry. As such, they have the resources to maintain recovery solutions and the knowledge to help businesses develop an effective, compliant BC & DR strategy that adequately addresses the risks identified in the company’s business impact analysis.”

Databarracks, a provider of DR, backup and IaaS from UK-based, ex-military data centres, supports this view. Its MD Peter Groucutt says: “We were early to the cloud disaster recovery market and coined the term ‘virtual disaster recovery’. In the last two years there has been a surge in interest in cloud-based disaster recovery.”

But Groucutt points out that technology is only half of what it takes to deliver effective disaster recovery – for it to really work it has to be backed up by expert support.

“DRaaS is so significant because organisations can reduce their costs and improve their recovery compared with traditional disaster recovery services. Organisations don’t want the expense of running secondary data centres purely for disaster recovery. With DRaaS, they get the flexibility of cloud computing combined with recovery experts they can rely on to get them up and running again in the event of a disaster.”

Should you get physical?

Kingswood makes the observation that DRaaS solutions were developed in response to the challenge of businesses needing a way to recover data from the cloud. Rather than simply storing customers’ data in the cloud, cloud disaster recovery providers began helping businesses vault and recover their data to physical hardware, VMs or another cloud environment. 

“Over the last couple of years, several providers have begun offering hybrid-infrastructure DRaaS to allow businesses to store high-priority data or unique applications on-site in addition to vaulting data to the cloud,” says Kingswood. “For example, ITS’ DRaaS solution uses a fully managed data storage appliance called BlackVault in conjunction with BlackCloud, a private cloud environment that provides secure and compliant vaulting and recovery.”

He adds that with so many DRaaS providers clamouring for attention, the key to their success is to adapt to a business’s individual needs and provide unique, high-quality services. 

Hybrid DRaaS solutions seem to be gathering momentum. VMware says the main target for its recently launched VMware vCloud Hybrid Service – Disaster Recovery is network managers who use vSphere Hybrid Service as part of their cloud computing infrastructure. Bill Fathers, SVP and GM of hybrid cloud services, said the company was aiming to “distinguish itself from other cloud providers by making disaster recovery simple and cost-effective with the new service. 

“[It allows] our customers to use a hybrid cloud approach to deliver business value, without wrestling with operational complexity and incompatibility inherent to other public clouds.”

Meanwhile, Silicon Valley-based Zetta claims it’s developed a complete three-in-one backup, disaster recovery and archiving service that can be managed within an organisation’s existing IT environment. The firm says its Zetta.net DRaaS is capable of backing up both virtual and physical servers. 

“The current DRaaS approaches include data recovery of files, appliance-based recovery-as-a-service, virtual-only DRaaS, and traditional DRaaS that is only affordable for larger enterprises,” says the company’s VP of products, Chris Schin. “These approaches don’t give most businesses true DRaaS to keep their entire business operational after a disaster.”

All the indications are that the DRaaS market will keep growing, particularly when you consider that at least half of all businesses still do not have disaster recovery services. But according to Sungard’s Howell, succeeding in the market is all about offering a comprehensive approach to disaster recovery. That means widening out an understanding from just IT to all of the factors that will deliver an effective recovery strategy, embracing digital as well as traditional means.


Cloud rescues John Laing during Holborn fire 

On 1 April, an underground fire led to a mass power outage in central London. It took 36 hours to put out the blaze in Holborn which, at its height, was tackled by 10 fire engines and around 72 fire-fighters and officers from the London Fire Brigade. Subsequent investigations revealed that an electrical fault in the Victorian tunnels underneath Kingsway damaged a gas main which then ruptured.

Around 5,000 people from local properties were evacuated during the incident, including staff from the John Laing Group. As an international investor and manager of infrastructure projects, continuing business on a day-to-day basis is crucial to the firm. On the day of the fire, this was exactly what happened.

John Laing was an early adopter of cloud having outsourced its IT to Wirebird as part of an office move in 2012. Wirebird proposed its Infrastructure+ cloud-based solution for the firm’s voice and data infrastructure and also reduced 120 physical servers to just 14 virtualised ones. 

According to the service provider, one of the advantages of this physical separation is reduced risk, ensuring business continuity in the event of any disaster at John Laing’s head office. This was certainly put to the test in April. 

John Laing IT director Dylan Jones says: “With the support and solution from Wirebird we could carry on. Staff were evacuated but could work from anywhere with an internet connection. We could even hold an important investors meeting that still went ahead via a video and audio conferencing call. Essentially, the fire had no impact on how we conducted business nationally and internationally that week, despite the fact the offices were closed.”

Wirebird – which is now part of the Timico Technology Group –  supported John Laing throughout the incident providing daily updates on any damage the outage may have caused to hardware.

Wirebird MD Nabeil Samara says businesses are still wary about hosting voice and data in the cloud but needn’t be as it’s totally secure. “This incident is a great testament to the advantages of cloud technology and demonstrates how vital it is for a disaster recovery plan,” he says.