The Importance of Disaster Recovery Testing

When considering disaster recovery, any organisation that has seriously examined the impact of a total loss of IT systems would have determined that the desired recovery time objectives (RTOs) are tight. After all, time is money.

The backup mechanism in place determines the minimum RTO possible. Tapes have a finite data transport speed and must be physically moved between sites. Server-based backup solutions, which can perform live replications to a DR site, are a huge improvement in both speed of data transfer and availability, but these require significant skill sets in order to install and manage. With respect to recovery times, there are many other factors that can delay recovery of systems to a running and transactionally consistent state.  How do you determine these factors? Through regular disaster recovery testing.

Disaster preparedness goes beyond taking regular backups. It comes down to knowing that the required resources and recovery skill set is available when needed. It’s reasonable to expect that in-house technical staff can perform tasks such as restoring database backups – the processes for this are well defined and tested. However, restoring platform operating systems and dependent services is a different story, and is complicated when (as is commonly the case) the available recovery platform is dissimilar from that of production. Often physical systems are restored to virtualised systems as part of a cost-effective disaster recovery solution. This is known as a physical to virtual conversion, or P2V, but is not always a straight-forward exercise.

With training and disaster recovery testing exercises, in-house technical staff can develop sufficient knowledge to perform adequate recoveries.  But is the training expense and time invested in this cost-effective? Do you have the man-power to perform sufficient tests such that the time taken for recoveries is within the required recovery time objective? Maybe you can achieve this with a one-off testing exercise, but with the evolving inter-dependencies of typical business systems, will the lessons learnt be applicable in future?

An option worth considering is to engage the services of a dedicated disaster recovery service provider. Such a provider has specific skills in platform management, server-based backup and recovery systems and specific experience recovering a variety of common server technologies such as email and database dependent systems. A disaster recovery service provider should provide your organisation with regular disaster recovery testing exercises that are professionally project managed, executed with a prudent level of isolation from production and will present a professionally prepared report addressing the actual recovery times against the agreed RTOs.

Your in-house IT personnel deal with operational issues every day, and are ideally qualified to validate the correct operation of business systems as restored by a disaster recovery service provider. The coupling of your in-house IT expertise with a disaster recovery service provider able to efficiently restore production systems in the shortest time possible, is a key element to a successful business continuity plan, and ultimately to the survival of a business from a crippling disaster.

Data Centres: To Build or Not to Build?

There are a number of triggers such as business growth and office relocation which may cause an organisation to evaluate the adequacy of their current data centre. The decision of whether to outsource a data centre as opposed maintaining one in-house can depend on a number of factors. For businesses with only one location a secondary data centre for remote backup, offsite backup storage or disaster recovery purposes will need to be considered.

The way a business operates should be considered, as an outsourced data centre will work well for organisations where operational expenditure is preferred. If you’re already using cloud storage, online data backup, email archiving or outsourced disaster recovery services this strategy will be complimentary. Building/Upgrading and maintaining a data centre will require significant up front capital expenditure to achieve the same result as a commercial data centre provider. As commercial data centres deal in thousands of square meters of technical floor space there are a lot of savings to be made with that quantity of scale.

An outsourced facility generally will give better resiliency as most commercial providers have at least N+1 redundancy on power and cooling systems coupled with better physical security. The importance of the level of resilience needed for primary infrastructure will depend on the maturity of your organisation’s data backup, IT disaster recovery and business continuity processes.

Aspects such as expand-ability of technical floor space, floor loading, fire suppression and the availability and redundancy of power and cooling infrastructure all need to be considered carefully when assessing the suitability of a solution.

Shrinking Legacy IT Business sees HDS Grow in the Cloud

Historically known as an enterprise storage-focused vendor, Hitachi Data System continues to work its way into the cloud market, which it sees as a “growth opportunity” and complementary to its long-time storage business.

Speaking with ZDNet, Adrian De Luca, Hitachi Data Systems Asia-Pacific chief technology officer, said that given the changing needs of its legacy customers, it was important for the business to take the leap and traverse into the world of cloud, too.

“There’s no secret that legacy IT is shrinking,” he said.

“Certainly the selling of our legacy components such as standalone storage has been a depressed business, but we’re still growing. The reason why we’re still growing is because of private and hybrid cloud.”

In fact, De Luca said HDS is finding its strength is in the private cloud space where the company has seen that side of the business double year-on-year. He said there’s a clear market for private cloud in Australia as many of the company’s existing enterprise customers are after the consumption and automation model, as well as the self-service model of cloud, but still want to retain their existing SLAs.

“Our enterprise customers have a lot of legacy systems; they’ve got legacy skills and fixed investments such as datacentres, so for them it seems like a quantum leap to move the cloud. So they need to typically take smaller and more incremental steps into cloud,” he said.

“What we’ve done is tried to build a journey for a lot of those customers. It’s something we call ‘your cloud, your way’.”

Unlike other traditional vendors such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard — which are also transitioning their business into the cloud market — HDS’s approach to cloud has been through setting up cloud partnerships. In the last two months, the company has signed partnerships with Brisbane-based SureBridge IT, Victoria-based Global Storage, and Avnet to help resell its cloud services onshore across the country. HDS’s offerings are also integrated to work with key software vendors including VMware and SAP.

“HDS is a partner-centric company. Unlike IBM and HP, they want to build the datacentre and run them. We know what we’re really good at but we also recognise the things that we need to partner with,” De Luca said.

While HDS is strategically playing to its strengths in the private cloud market, the vendor hasn’t completely neglected the public cloud space either. While De Luca acknowledged the company is going up against some of the biggest players including Amazon and Google that have “certainly validated a new business model”, HDS is prepared to be part of it.

In June, the company announced a number of mobility products so it could integrate public cloud offerings and extend its technology portfolio.

“What we talked about is how we can take, for example, our archive platform and actually connect a public cloud behind it. Our file serving can also leverage public cloud. This is all a big maturity change or step change of HDS in Australia. We’ve not only recognised cloud, but we’re also becoming successful in it,” said De Luca.

The plan of attack for HDS will be to target the smaller end of town, the SME market, an area that the company hasn’t traditionally been involved in before, but according to De Luca is responding better to moving to the cloud.

“I think what is happening here is that we have a clever SME community who are saying that they’re not going to bother hosting their own cloud, or buy their own components, but are going straight to a cloud service provider for all of that,” he said.

“But what they’re saying is they want to go to a local cloud service provider because they want that customer service onshore. So we’ve created a cloud service provider unit that is focused on our multinational service providers.”

The only challenge now for the company is to convince the rest of the market that HDS is serious about being a key cloud vendor.

“Quite frankly our challenge is being recognised in the market for providing these services,” De Luca said.

“We’re not a strong marketing company but we power a lot of the technology behind these local providers, so we’re happy to be the silent partner in this.”