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The Changing Face of Disaster Recovery in the Age of Cloud Computing

Adding robustness to an increasing number of organizations and helping create a sustainable, scalable business environment

Disaster Recovery (DR) has typically only been used by organizations for applications deemed to be mission critical. This was because organizations didn't want to incur the expense associated with DR for less important applications. Today, because of cloud computing, many organizations are considering the use of DR for as many applications as is essential for the business.

DR in the cloud is relatively a new concept still and, like many technology trends we've seen so far, there's a lot of hype and misinterpretation out there. Multiple schools of thought exist on whether or not to implement DR in the cloud.

Today, cloud-based DR has shaken up traditional legacy approaches and presents a persuasive alternative. Some organizations see cloud as a part of their DR plan, and for some, the cloud has become the de-facto DR plan. DR in the cloud is readily available and affordable for SMBs, but there is some amount of confusion out there that may give companies a false sense of security and lure them into making bad decisions.

Most companies are still looking at doing pilots for moving their less critical applications to the cloud. Given this situation, disaster recovery in the cloud remains at an early adoption stage. However, it is the SMBs that are starting to and in fact, discovering the various benefits of adopting the cloud for disaster recovery as it provides an excellent alternative for companies that don't want to, or don't have the funds to spend on disaster recovery for their secondary infrastructure. Apart from cost reductions, DR in the cloud can also help reduce usage of data center space and requirement of IT resources, and infrastructure.

A lot of smaller companies might think using free or low-cost services for backing up their data is a sufficient DR Plan. In fact, most organizations - both small and large -miss the fact that in order to provide mobility to their employees you need a robust Disaster Recovery Plan that goes well beyond dumping data on cloud storage services.

DR in the cloud is not without its share of risks. Security appears to be the main concern with a few organizations that are looking at DR in the cloud. In addition to security, another thing to consider is whether there is sufficient bandwidth, time and expertise to direct the users to the cloud in case of a true disaster.

Cloud computing can definitely help SMBs tackle critical factors that will help facilitate a nimble DR strategy. For example, the fact that you don't have to invest in specialized and at times large infrastructure saves cost and, perhaps even more importantly, saves you time as well. Cloud-based DR provides a greater flexibility than traditional DR, because the underlying computing model offers you the scale and elasticity to manage the unpredictable impact of the disaster.

There are three compelling factors enterprises need to consider when looking at adopting a DR in the cloud strategy. First, it is the CAPEX savings. Second is the agility that cloud-based DR solutions provide. Here by agility - we mean time-to-implement, demand-scale factor, time-to-respond, qualitative metrics, and how quickly you can get started. Third is the inherent DR architecture capability a DR cloud provider offers you  like options for services, locations, storage, and service levels. Cloud platforms built around virtualization technologies really speed up recovery time compared to building physical servers from scratch.

Following are the cloud-based DR strategies to consider -

  1. Cloud as a backup infrastructure site: One can always choose multiple sites from a single cloud vendor or you can try multiple vendors. Restore happens from the cloud to on-premise infrastructure in case of disaster. Now-a-days backup application vendors have been extending their backup suites with options to directly back up to popular cloud service providers such as Amazon Web Services, Windows Azure, Rackspace, etc. It's important to note that data recovery can very much derail your DR plan if cloud access mechanisms and options are not well understood and planned for carefully.
  2. Backup as well as restore to cloud: Here your data is not restored back to on-premise, but it is restored back to the cloud. This requires both compute as well as storage on the cloud, such as Amazon EC2, EBS, S3, etc. With this approach, restore is either done when required or can be done on on-going basis to ensure that your backup is fairly up to date and provides a high level of responsiveness to the business. Your management architecture should take care of business continuity and supporting higher levels of your restore time objective.
  3. Replicating applications and data on the cloud resources: This strategy of replication to cloud virtual machines provides DR for cloud applications and data, and it can be used for on-premise systems as well. Replication products come in handy for this strategy implementation; however, the cost of maintaining multiple setups and tools at all times could impact the budget negatively.
  4. Leverage traditional managed providers for cloud-hosted DR: These are the players who provide managed cloud application services and also offer managed DR as a service. They provide and have SLAs around high availability, recovery point objective, recovery time objective, etc.; however, their cost and operational mechanisms may be prohibitive given that most may still be using traditional technologies and methods to offer DR managed service.
  5. Use special purpose built DR-as-a-Service (DRaaS) solutions: Services like rCloud and others offer an affordable and complete cloud-based disaster recovery platform, and remove the whole DR planning and management hassle allowing organizations to focus on the business growth and not worry about the business continuity issues.

There are multiple strategies enterprises can use to deploy DR using cloud computing, and at the same time there are multiple technology solutions, methodologies, and practises. What enterprises need today is to ensure they have the right technology advice and best know-how guidance to ensure the business continuity through cloud.

To get started, try and test your DR plans in the cloud by using non-sensitive data first. Make this a line item in your cloud strategy roadmap and evaluate your options. Forward-thinking enterprises are embracing the changing face of business continuity and reaping the benefits of reduced effort and cost by leveraging cloud-based DR. Cloud-based DR is already delivering the kind of robustness needed for an increasing number of organizations; and paving the way for a sustainable, scalable business environment. Are you one of them?

More Stories By Jiten Patil

Jiten Patil is Principal Technology Consultant & Cloud Expert, CTO Office, at Persistent Systems Limited, a global leader in software product development and services. He has 15 years of industry experience and has spent the past 6 years working with cloud service providers, ISVs and enterprises in the field of SaaS, IaaS, PaaS and hybrid cloud computing solutions. His key expertise is in guiding organizations for cloud strategy and roadmap, solution architecting for public & private application services, platform services, multi-tenancy methodologies, application enablement and migration, devising new cloud solutions, tools and IP products, and doing competitive assessment across cloud technologies. He can be reached at Jitendra_Patil@persistent.co.in / Twitter @jiten_patil

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