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Why you should incorporate a cloud disaster recovery plan

Implementing a cloud disaster recovery plan can lead to financial savings, but also ensures a company's data is safely secured off-site.

Arun Taneja, founder and president of Taneja Group, provides readers with his best cloud tips. In part two of this four-part series, we learn how cloud storage changes a disaster recovery (DR) plan and if you need to implement a specific cloud disaster recovery plan.

Organizations large and small should seriously consider incorporating cloud storage into their DR planning, testing and deployment. Cloud storage offers greater versatility and data accessibility than most other DR options, and may also provide a significant cost advantage, particularly to small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).

Before we discuss how cloud storage can improve a DR plan, let’s touch on the disaster recovery plan itself. All organizations should have a DR plan, even the smallest ones. In talking with end users, we’re always surprised by just how many organizations don’t have a DR plan, or have let their plans fall into abeyance. And if your organization has a DR plan, you must still invest the time to review and exercise it regularly -- to be sure the plan is functioning and to ensure you haven’t overlooked opportunities to make your DR practices more rigorous and efficient.

Until recently, effective DR practices required an IT practice unto itself -- full-blown, duplicate IT infrastructure spread out to two or more different sites, along with all the hands-on systems and storage management that goes with that plan. The cost and complexity of these traditional approaches discouraged (and, in many cases, prevented) SMBs from investing in DR planning and processes. But the advent of virtualization and cloud technologies has changed that picture dramatically.

With the recent emergence of virtualization and cloud storage technologies, it’s now possible to implement a cloud disaster recovery plan. So how are companies deploying cloud storage for DR purposes today? Users basically move or replicate data on a regular basis from the data center into a cloud storage repository, where that data can then be used for recovery in the event of a disaster or other prolonged outage. For environments that require rapid recovery, this approach can be extended to cover application workloads as well. By periodically synchronizing data, vendors can enable workloads to switch or fail over to the cloud, where they can continue to run as long as the primary site is down.

Cloud-enabled DR delivers a number of advantages over traditional DR architectures, which generally involve data being moved or replicated to a physical, off-site facility. Because the cloud eliminates the need for customers to invest in a remote DR facility, the cloud significantly shrinks the CAPEX required for traditional DR. Ongoing operating expenses are also reduced as users no longer have to pay power and cooling costs for remote equipment. Because the cloud is economically priced and can allocate capacity and performance on demand, customers only have to pay for the resources consumed.

Moving DR to the cloud can also increase the flexibility of disaster recovery configurations and practices. And because clouds are designed for remote management, it may speed recovery. Compared to cumbersome and expensive tape-based DR practices (both on-premises and off-site), such capabilities can make routine testing practical and ensure a solution works when needed.

As you would expect with any emerging technology, cloud storage also introduces some potential issues that users must pay attention to. Before pursuing disaster recovery in the cloud, users should demand answers from cloud storage providers to the following questions:

  1. How will my data be secured in the cloud? Does the provider offer encryption services, both for data in transit and data at rest? How are cloud storage users authenticated -- using passwords only or a two-factor authentication scheme?
  2. Does the cloud provider satisfy regulatory requirements for the regulations I care about? How is compliance measured and certified?
  3. What are the expected recovery times (RTOs) for the data I’ll be storing in the cloud? Is the topic of RTOs covered in the service-level agreement (SLA)?
  4. Does the cloud storage provider have a demonstrated track record in meeting data availability and recovery requirements?
  5. Can the provider effectively match the virtualization infrastructure I have in-house to facilitate rapid recovery?
  6. Will the provider allow me to test and exercise DR processes on a regular basis to ensure my organization is prepared in the event of an outage?

The answers to these questions will depend in part on what type of DR capability your provider offers. There are three types of cloud disaster recovery plan options to consider:

  • Cloud backup solutions. For small organizations without large amounts of data, simple backup to the cloud may be enough protection for DR purposes. Backup tends to be simpler and less costly than more rigorous disaster recovery solutions, but recovery will likely take longer, since data will need to be restored from backup files or images. These solutions are available from cloud and virtualization startups, as well as traditional data protection vendors.
  • Cloud gateway, on-ramp and integrated storage solutions. These offerings are considerably more functional than simple backup solutions, often including a local storage appliance and building in capabilities such as capacity optimization, automated replication and transparent scalability. Representative vendors include Riverbed, StorSimple and TwinStrata.
  • Cloud-hosted DR solutions. This emerging class of solutions takes data and virtual server workloads off-site into a multi-tenant, hosted cloud and can enable full recovery of servers, data and applications.

You will need to choose the solution that best fits your situation, considering everything from the value of your data to cost and recovery objectives. Whatever type of solution or provider you choose, there’s no question cloud storage must now be taken seriously in your disaster recovery planning process and that creating a cloud disaster recovery plan can be a cost-effective and necessary choice for your company.

About the author:
Arun Taneja is founder and president of Taneja Group, an analyst and consulting group focused on storage and storage-centric server technologies.

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