09/07/2015

By Marc Goroff, CTO at Quorum


As the Tour de France fever ratchets up around the world, it’s clear to me that businesses can draw several parallels with professional cycling and their disaster recovery (DR) strategy. If businesses and cyclists plan ahead, it’s possible for both to have a real-time support crew on hand the moment something goes wrong. And, just seconds after it goes wrong, the support crew solves the problem and the cyclist, or business, gets back to what it does best.

Imagine you’re midway through the Tour de France, your leading the peloton and then your brakes overheat and your tire bursts. Up until then you were leading the peloton with a 28-second advantage. What next, how do you recover and can you still win the race?

In a perfect world, your team support crew appears with a new bike – completely identical to your old one- and five seconds later you’re back on the seat and still comfortably in the lead. Winning a stage of the Tour de France usually comes down to a few seconds, and sometimes milliseconds. You just don’t have time to pull over and replace your tire.

1) Shifting data recovery into gear

The first, most obvious point is achieving 100 percent uptime. No cyclist or business can afford the luxury of downtime when they have their shredded tire moment – for a business most often in the form of a failed production server.

As any glance at the news will tell you, enterprises of all sizes are at the risk of data loss due to disasters, but the problem is, like blown tires, data disasters are unplanned and unexpected--and usually aren’t caused by Mother Nature. Although advance planning cannot eliminate or prevent an unexpected event, such as an attack from a malicious hacker, it can provide an edge in overcoming any long-term consequences like lost sales information and damaged internal records that can be caused by a disaster. To stay upright in the peloton, you have to look ahead and watch out for sharp corners and potholes, as it’s a bad idea to put too much trust in the rider in front of you.

For your business, a DR plan should have three primary goals to ensure its business continuity/ DR plan is built both for speed, agility and endurance. First, it should be designed to protect all of your files and records, including the physical and virtual servers themselves. Second, the plan should provide a framework with the capability to quickly retrieve information and virtually replicate your business. This will allow your operations to continue at a new location, if necessary. Third, because DR infrastructure so often sits underutilised, in these times of tight budgets and staffing it’s critical to get more value out of your DR strategy even when you’re not experiencing downtime.

To achieve these goals, the organisation must have technology in place that will be the support crew in the event of a disaster. A hybrid cloud or disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS) approach is rapidly becoming an effective choice. Because DRaaS doesn’t have the physical infrastructure and configuration synchronisation associated with traditional disaster recovery, it’s a flexible option. A hybrid cloud-based solution combines on-premises hardware, public cloud and SaaS automation software to make continuity planning easier than ever. The DR cloud provides data backup, fail-over of servers and the ability to have a secondary data center at a different site to allow for regional disaster recovery.

2) Test recovery capabilities

Cyclists would never consider entering a race without first going for at least one training ride, and typically, they ride segments multiple times, learning the curves and changes in elevation. The same approach should apply to a continuity plan – don’t wait until an unplanned outage to see how things unfold, instead test your DR plan.

With DRaaS solutions, there is also computing capacity on standby to recover applications if there is a disaster. This can be easily tested without impacting the production servers or unsettling the daily business routine. A so-called ‘sandbox’ copy is created in the cloud, which is only accessible by the system administrator. These copies are created on demand, paid for while being used and deleted once the test is complete. This makes testing simple, cost effective and does not disrupt the business.

There’s a cadence to pedalling your bike and to conducting live DR testing. You can test recovery, software updates and server configuration changes every day without missing a beat. Test cases can be performed against the recovery systems in as little as 15 minutes depending on the application, often with no incremental costs. Applications and services are immediately available for other uses, enabling businesses to efficiently adopt cloud infrastructure or speed time to production for new initiatives.

3) Creating business value beyond disaster recovery

Truly elite bicycling teams take a thoughtful approach to having the proper equipment and components on hand based on the circumstances of a particular race. They don’t waste resources or space on items not critical for competing with the pack.

Beyond the operational advantages, there are financial benefits to cloud-based testing. Service providers regularly offer sliding scales for DR testing. Disaster recovery on demand allows businesses to only pay for what you need, when you need it. Putting your DR solution in the cloud also means there isn’t a redundant in-house infrastructure that is sitting unused most of the time. You can prioritise recovery based on the level of protection you want for each server without wasting time and money.

Another challenging part of a DR plan is to get employees to know what to do if an outage occurs. People learn by repetition, so just like learning how to overcome shredded tires on a mountainside, we have to create practice DR drills, which are critical to a DR plan. Companies who don’t do these regularly should not be shocked if their employees don’t respond appropriately and panic when a server goes down. But you will still find more companies with self-hosting based DR services hoping for the best.

4) Wearing the yellow jersey

To win the Tour de France you have to attack every stage, every hill and every time trial. Likewise, it’s clear that firms would be foolish not to protect themselves against data loss. In fact, most CFOs and IT leaders understand the need for disaster preparedness but have previously found it difficult to formulate a DR plan. The main barriers to implementation are now being broken down by DRaaS. It not only addresses recovery plan goals, it also supports regular testing without the traditional overhead costs and logistical nightmares. You can protect your company against data loss and have peace of mind that whenever you need to implement a new business application or process, it’ll work the first time, every time. But you must plan well, keeping your operations out of the wind until you need to recover from a disaster, without getting boxed in by traditional backup and recovery methods that just don’t cut it anymore. So be smart with your DR plan, equip your team with technology that can deliver real-time recovery fast, and you’ll have a clear shot at wearing the yellow jersey.