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Cloud // Software as a Service
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Kurt Marko
Kurt Marko
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No Disaster Recovery Plan? No Excuse

Hardware appliances tethered to cloud services provide enterprise-class protection on a startup budget.

Say what you want about cloud services, they level the playing field. It's no stretch to say a two-person startup operating out of a dorm room can get many of the same capabilities as a Fortune 500 company. One area where this is true in spades is data backup and disaster recovery services like those from Ctera, Drobo, Qnap, Quorum, Synology, and Thecus. Their products are easy for small companies to use because hooks to cloud services are built right into hardware appliances, creating ready-to-run, hybrid, local/remote redundant systems.

Today, if Mother Nature flattens your business and you can’t get back up and running fast, you have no one to blame but yourself.

Plenty of low-cost storage appliances include the ability to perform cloud data backup and replication as part of their software stacks. For example, Qnap, Synology, and Thecus [PDF] all support Amazon S3 as a backup target for their NAS appliances. Although these aren't continuous replication systems like those found on higher-end cloud storage gateways such as Panzura Quicksilver or Riverbed Whitewater, most can be set to perform hourly incremental backups of select directories. Synology even allows backing up MySQL databases hosted on the device. For full-fledged, real-time replication on a tight budget, entry-level iSCSI arrays such as Drobo's eight- and 12-bay systems can be used in conjunction with Amazon's AWS Storage Gateway for either continuous data copying or snapshot backups.

For those looking for tighter integration between appliance and cloud service, Ctera offers several storage products sized for small and branch offices that work with its proprietary service portal. As Rani Osnat, Ctera's VP of marketing, puts it, the portal software, which is typically deployed by software-as-a-service providers or ISPs, acts as middleware between data locally stored on a Ctera appliance, which otherwise looks like a standard NAS box, and cloud services. Files are automatically and securely (using AES for the data and SSL for transport) backed up to the cloud, and the product offers automatic data compression and deduplication, features not always found on entry-level products, to increase usable cloud capacity and reduce transport time. Another nice touch is the ability to do bare-metal system restores to Windows, Mac, and Linux hosts.

Of course, backup is only one piece of a complete DR process. Sure, it's important to protect data, but keeping your business running means also being able to quickly restore applications. This entails copying not only files and databases, but OS images and system configurations. Larry Lang, CEO of Quorum, characterizes it as the difference between common cloud backup services like Mozy and eVault, what he calls archival services, and full cloud-based DR. The difference here is recovery time: It takes too long to restore applications from bits and pieces of backed-up data. In contrast, Quorum's approach is to regularly take snapshots. "We essentially take a photocopy of the server,” Lang said.

As we've written earlier, many cloud DR services focus on the needs of larger enterprises, meaning their complexity, feature sets, and prices often aren't a good match for small IT shops. Lang said Quorum clients, such as law firms and accounting agencies, may have an IT department of two or three people; they're necessarily generalists, but not necessarily unsophisticated. By virtue of having to deal with problems in many domains, from user support to server configuration, they can't develop deep expertise in any one area. Lang said other hybrid-cloud products miss the needs of this constituency. "Things like VMware Site Recovery Manager are really designed for Goldman Sachs; there's a whole lot of assembly required," he said. Quorum's goal was to design a system where small organizations can leverage the benefits of virtualization with a low-cost and easy-to-use DR system.

To achieve this goal, Quorum employs a hybrid architecture with a local appliance coupled with a cloud service. But unlike Ctera or other hybrid storage products, Quorum's is a full-blown virtualized server (a rebadged Dell box) running Quorum's DR software. Unlike backup products, Lang said Quorum's device fully replicates entire applications running on other systems in your infrastructure, whether virtualized or not, and then automatically stores secondary image copies in the cloud. "It's a never-ending physical-to-virtual process," he said.

The beauty of Quorum's server/appliance is that its constantly updated system images are ready to run, either locally on the Quorum appliance or remotely by spinning up virtual machines in the cloud, should the primary system fail. "We've automated the restore so it's always ready to go," Lang said. Using its onQ cloud service means not only are individual systems protected via the local appliance, but so is your entire site. The hardware appliance starts at $5,000, with a typical configuration ending up at about $20,000, with the cloud service running between $100 and $200 per month, depending on server sizes.

The convergence of hardware appliances and cloud services into integrated hybrid systems allows even the smallest company to achieve high levels of data redundancy and application resilience, with the convenience of network copies--no rummaging for tapes or shuffling them off-site and risking loss or theft. While fire or flood may obliterate your offices and equipment, there's no reason it should destroy your business.

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User Rank: Apprentice
8/23/2012 | 5:40:08 PM
re: No Disaster Recovery Plan? No Excuse
If you are going to use the Cloud for anything, THAT is where your production data goes and you bring back disaster recovery data to hardware.

Maggie's Dad
Maggie's Dad,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/23/2012 | 12:59:57 PM
re: No Disaster Recovery Plan? No Excuse
It's great to see DR getting the attention it needs - so many companies are dangerously behind the curve when it comes to properly backing up their data and virtualized systems.

Like Quorum, CommVault and others in the industry, EVault has witnessed first-hand how much our cloud-based disaster recovery service has helped customers. For most of our customers, it comes down to our ability to quickly restore an entire system, which has meant the difference between shutting down for days and getting on with conducting business, even in the face of a major disaster.

Greg Vitarelli
User Rank: Ninja
8/22/2012 | 10:49:18 AM
re: No Disaster Recovery Plan? No Excuse
I agree that a cloud only approach is dumb and negligent, but the article states that the services described are for "hybrid, local/remote redundant systems." So instead of hiring a company that comes by once a week to take the tapes or disks to a hopefully secure location this now can be done via cloud services.
It still adds a different complexity to it. Data services for businesses are usually metered, so the expense of pushing daily backups to the cloud goes beyond the fee for the service. Same applies when getting data back and in that case the size of pipe comes into play. Even a speedier connection will take some time to restore several TB of data. And there is no means to know who is sniffing around in your data, but that is the same if you hire some service to pick up tapes or tell the IT guy to take the stuff home.
DR using cloud services is yet another option that offers new solutions. For example, a VoIP phone switch in the office is useless when there is no IP. How do you do phone support? You give every support rep a USB phone to take home and when the disaster comes along you tell them to go home, plug in the USB phone to their computer, and hook up to an on demand cloud based phone exchange to take calls. I've seen this implemented and used and it works, but it still comes with its disadvantages. So part of the DR needs to be to have a few POTS connections that can hook into a backup support system. That way you can also grab a few nice people from training or QA in peak times and have them answer calls.
Mack Knife
Mack Knife,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/19/2012 | 5:38:24 PM
re: No Disaster Recovery Plan? No Excuse
Anyone using Cloud services to store data that is also hosted in the cloud is a fool. Who in their right mind retains hardware for data then spools that to the cloud for disaster recovery? That is pure insanity.

If you are going to use the Cloud for anything, THAT is where your production data goes and you bring back disaster recovery data to hardware.

First of all, virtually no business can survive a disaster of such magnitude that you implement a disaster recovery plan that includes moving to Cloud services. Such a disaster would almost certainly include a system wide security breach, not a simple hardware failure, even one that encompasses all the hardware a business has.

Using Cloud systems to hold backup data is well, backwards. If you are going to go through all the effort to put disaster recovery data and services in the cloud, by on earth would you not move your product there and maintain the disaster recovery and related services in hardware that can be distributed, redundant and easily access even if the disaster was so significant that Internet connectivity was impossible? Small thinking equals big problems

In simple terms, a disaster recovery plan that does not take into account the loss of Internet connectivity and network connectivity outside of a primary site, even if it is your home office is something only a fool would design and only an idiot would implement.

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