Virtualisation is widely regarded as the best way to build datacentres, because it requires fewer servers, which helps lower IT costs and energy use. Now the technology is making inroads into disaster recovery.
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Disaster recovery normally involves establishing a dedicated datacentre which goes live when the main datacentre fails. However, the servers and IT infrastructure at the disaster recovery site are idle most of the time. Virtualisation allows IT departments to run other workloads on this IT infrastructure when the disaster recovery facility is not required.
Last week, VMware launched vSphere, its cloud operating system, which aims to link business' internal IT infrastructure with IT infrastructure available from a service provider though the cloud. One of the benefits of vCloud is that it enables businesses to support business continuity and disaster recovery, without requiring a back-up datacentre. Instead, the back-up site can be hosted within a service provider's datacentre using virtualisation.
Stephanie Balaouras, principal analyst, IT infrastructure and operations at Forrester Research, says virtualisation has made it easier for large enterprises to support disaster recovery. "If you wanted to be able to recover [from an outage] in a matter of minutes or hours, the service provider would previously charge millions of dollars." This is due to the complexity of the dedicated IT infrastructure required. Thanks to virtualisation she says, "IT departments can replicate physical or virtual machines through the cloud. This costs half as much as dedicated disaster recovery service."
Alstrom, which specialises in transport and energy, has been using VMware since 2003, in a bid to lower IT costs by using virtualisation to consolidate servers. The company has moved server infrastructure including its Windows Active Directory, Alteris patch management server, Lotus Notes e-mail system and some of its SAP servers onto VMware. "We now have a big project to offload disaster recovery into the cloud, using VMware," says Rob Jones, director of technical architecture at Alstom.
Restaurant chain Pret a Manger is another company using virtualisation to lower the cost of disaster recovery. The company is using an internal cloud service from Ioko, based on VMware, which allows it to selectively move internally hosted services to one of ioko's shared cloud platforms or vice-versa. Pret uses Ioku's infrastructure to run line of business applications. Data is replicated over a 1gbps link to its Victoria-based head office, which is used as a disaster recovery site.
However, there are a number of barriers to using virtualisation for disaster recovery. Phil Dawson, a research director at Gartner, says, "Your software licensing contracts may not cover running a disaster recovery site hosted by a service provider."
The security policy of service providers that offer disaster recovery in the cloud may be lower than the security policy for the business. Peter Wood, chief of operations at penetration testing company First Base Technologies, warns, "When you use a third party provider you cannot control security."
But if the security and licensing issues can be overcome, cloud-based disaster recovery using virtualisation can be a viable alternative to costly back-up datacentres.