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8/15/2012
05:55 PM
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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