Ralph Wynn, technical director of product marketing for FalconStor Software, is a storage professional with more than 15 years of experience in product management, marketing, support and deployment. Prior to joining FalconStor, Ralph worked at Bocada, Synscort and Symantec..
In the months since Hurricane Sandy struck the Eastern United States, disaster recovery (DR) planning has been covered in the media and discussed by IT administrators from almost every angle. Every company knows it needs to prepare for literal storms and figurative ones – the instances of human error, malicious acts and equipment failure that can bring IT down just as surely as a superstorm.
DR, data protection and accessibility are 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week, year-round critical tasks for IT. In fact, data center managers now understand that they must look beyond just protecting and backing up data; they need to protect complete IT services on which the business depends. The challenge comes in how to implement DR successfully into today’s increasingly complex environments, since traditional data protection methods cannot scale easily to handle massive data growth.
A DR Insurance Policy for Every Data Center
The complexity of today’s data center creates a time crunch that is only getting more severe. DR is the most time-consuming process within the data center, and it is often pushed to the bottom of daily IT priority lists. As data center managers deal with mounting numbers of end-user requests and other daily projects, they understandably lose focus on the just-in-case processes that aren’t as pressing. And yet, just as we all maintain insurance policies on our homes to protect us from the unthinkable, data centers must have DR plans to do the same job. DR is the IT insurance plan, and it protects the data, the applications, the systems, and the infrastructure that make up critical IT services that runs the business.
Simply put, DR is critical for continuity of business operations. Companies can lose millions of dollars when their data centers go down. This cost comes in the form loss of productivity, damaged corporate reputations and other repercussions. Most companies state they can’t afford downtime that lasts for more than four hours without incurring painful losses. IT administrators are all too aware of that pressure, so when a disruption occurs, they scramble to execute the complex, stressful series of steps required to get up and running.
So, how can IT leaders alleviate that stress and get back to business more quickly after a disaster? How can data center managers ensure that their IT insurance plans are adequate? The answer lies in proper planning, testing and implementation of DR plans and solutions that are designed specifically for today’s complex, data-intense environments. In the past, too many DR plans failed because they weren’t executed correctly, conventional data protection technology couldn’t scale to protect IT services, and the plans weren’t thoroughly tested. Automated DR addresses all of these pitfalls by mechanizing the traditionally time-consuming manual recovery process. With automated DR, companies can recover systems within minutes, rather than hours or days, with a minimum of hands-on work.
Dispelling the Myths about DR Automation
Automated DR delivers time savings and decreases costly downtime, so why aren’t more data centers embracing it? The answer is simple: misunderstanding. The best way to combat the lack of understanding is with information, so let’s look at the four most common myths that inspire distrust in automated DR:
1. Myth: Automated DR cannot be customized to the environment. IT administrators believe that automated DR solutions are not able to handle the different kinds of hardware or physical and virtual servers used by most data centers today. In many cases, IT admins have to scramble to recover systems quickly and need to make use of any systems, physical or virtual, that are readily available.
Reality: There are automated DR solutions that can failover and failback between dissimilar hardware as well as from physical-to-virtual, virtual-to-virtual, or virtual-to-physical systems, allowing for quick recovery in any environment. Regardless of the type of servers, hardware or connectivity, automated DR can handle replication and recovery within heterogeneous environments.
2. Myth: Automated DR doesn’t allow for full testing. There is a perception that automated DR lacks the mechanism to test an end-to-end recovery scenario. There are some solutions that only offer the ability to test the recovery of a particular data set, application or part of the process. Without a full test, IT managers don’t feel confident about the ultimate disaster system in the event of an actual emergency.
Reality: A full, in-depth test of the entire environment is critical and must be done – at a minimum once per quarter – to ensure all the processes work. When selecting an automated DR solution, IT managers must examine the testing procedure in detail to ensure they can run a full test without causing significant downtime.
3. Myth: Automated DR requires multiple sources for data recovery. There are some DR automation solutions that can only restore part of the data on the system and need to rely upon other, potentially slower, backup applications for a full restoration. For example, there is a concern that if it has been four hours since the point of failure, the automated DR solution may only be able to recover two hours of lost data. The remaining data would need to be pulled from a secondary backup source. These types of solutions greatly hinder recovery time objectives.
Reality: A true automated DR system goes back to the original point of failure. Automated DR technologies that are integrated with disk-based continuous data protection and snapshot technology will allow companies to fully recover in one complete process.
4. Myth: Automated DR can only recover one system at a time. IT admins believe that automated DR solutions can only recover one system or application at a time, which is not adequate for an outage that spans multiple systems, applications and services. This concern stems from some products that purport to be automated DR solutions but can only recover one server at a time as part of the recovery process. Companies that experience failures that affect the entire data center are left running numerous time-consuming single-system restores.
Reality: Today’s advanced automated DR solutions allow for multiple machines – up to five systems at once – and complete IT services to be restored to full operation in a matter of minutes. This service-oriented approach to recovery focuses on the integrated constellation of systems, applications and data that make up critical data center services to eliminate or significantly reduce downtime.
Automated DR is a company’s insurance plan to eliminate costly downtime and stem productivity losses when systems crash. IT admins can remove the limitations and failures of traditional data protection solutions in the data center, but many hold to these common myths about automated DR. IT managers can overcome their distrust of automation by evaluating all available solutions on the market. They will find that the best of today’s automated DR systems are much more capable and reliable than they currently believe.
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