A Better Way to Recover from Hurricanes

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Izzy Azeri is senior vice president and general manager, Acronis Americas. Prior to joining Acronis, Izzy was at Vmware and EMC.

Izzy AzeriIZZY AZERI
Acronis Americas

The potential for disaster is fairly easy to calculate if your data center is in line with Hurricane Alley. During the 2011 Hurricane Season, tropical storms and hurricanes will thunder through Florida, barrel up the East Coast or crash onto the shores of the Gulf States, bringing with them floods, power outages and wind damage.

Until recently, the ultimate solution to a significant disaster was to build an offsite disaster recovery center. But a dedicated disaster recovery facility is not for the faint of wallet, with its ultra-high-speed link from your data center to the DR facility, and provisioned with duplicate computing equipment and added staff.

Fortunately, three things have aligned in the IT universe to make it much easier for small and medium-size businesses to achieve the same level of data protection enjoyed by big organizations: imaging, virtualization and the one kind of cloud that even hurricane survivors can appreciate: Cloud services. And it’s just in time, as most organizations have customer and partner-facing applications that must be available non-stop, often 24 hours a day.

Imaging remains the key to fast recoveries

For several years, imaging technology has steadily driven companies away from tape backups for Windows and Linux environments, and it remains the keystone for any disaster recovery plan where quick recoveries are required of an IT staff. But the way it’s being employed to recover servers to offsite locations is changing dramatically.

To illustrate, take the case of a New Orleans area petroleum lubricants company when Hurricane Katrina threatened power outages at the company’s data center in 2005.  At the time, the fastest path to recovery was to manually take live images of about 20 servers, load them all on RAID drives and drive them more than 300 miles to another company office in Houston. Upon arrival they were individually restored onto newly purchased physical servers, storage systems, ancillary equipment and networking gear. Each server took just an hour to restore, an astonishing feat at the time, but the total time (including travel) was more than 36 hours, and the DR facility was barely operational before the original data center went dark from a power outage.

Add in virtualization

Contrast this to a similar event three years later, when 2008’s Hurricane Gustav threatened a Louisiana fluids instrument manufacturer. This time, instead of physically transporting the images to another location, the company contacted an online computing services company and networked the images from the company’s physical servers over a virtual private network to a data center in an unaffected state. There, the servers were up and running as VMware machines in under an hour. Not only was the transition to the offsite location completed in just a few hours, it also cost eight to 10 times less than it would have three years earlier.

Time for the Cloud

Now, halfway through 2011, the work required to recover servers to virtual machines in an offsite location promises to consume less effort and time in this, the coming-of-age of cloud-based services. When combined with Acronis imaging and virtualization, Cloud services open the door for many more data centers to create a functional duplicate of a dedicated disaster recovery site for a fraction of the cost.

Moving to more affordable disaster recovery solutions

Justin Giardina, Chief Technology Officer of iland Internet Solutions (a partner of Acronis), says that live disk imaging, virtualization and cloud services are helping companies create more comprehensive, more affordable DR solutions than could be accomplished previously. “Because virtualization has become so prevalent, and its portability has been demonstrated in day-to-day business operations, it makes sense to harness this portability for disaster recovery solutions,” Giardina says. We now work with customers to image their servers, and we replicate them on VMware machines in a cloud facility for safekeeping.”

Cloud equals lower-cost disaster recoveries

The cost of replicating mission-critical servers and keeping them available on a standby basis in a large-scale virtual environment is much lower than the cost of creating a wholly owned offsite disaster recovery facility.

The  customer can tell a cloud services provider to spin up the preconfigured standby servers and bring them online if its own data center is threatened. “Planning in advance is critical,” Giardina points out. “The worst time to do it is when disaster is upon you, when you have to  drop everything to go through the process of migrating from one system to another and attempt to recover it.”

Test now and be confident later

However you manage an off-site facility, there’s no substitute for testing your ability to recover smoothly to another location. Think of how much you have invested in the idea that your Exchange server, your domain controller, or your key SQL application will be recoverable in a disaster situation. Then test it and make sure it actually is.

Takeaways:

  • Imaging technology remains the key to fast recoveries
  • Virtualization can lower the cost of recoveries
  • Offsite recovery sites used to require budgets that only big organizations could afford. Now small and medium-size businesses can be protected just as comprehensively
  • Test your disaster recovery plan before the disaster strikes

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