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Cloud disaster recovery offers cash saving benefits for the early adopter

Cloud disaster recovery offers money saving benefits. It is still an early-adopter technology in the UK but is among the most popular cloud services for storage professionals.

Cloud disaster recovery is one use case of the much-hyped cloud phenomenon that appears to have some traction among users. That's because data storage in the cloud naturally lends itself to being part of disaster recovery planning in which crucial data must be retained at a site that's remote from a business's primary location -- and you don't get much more remote than in the cloud.

Cloud disaster recovery is a subset of the services available in the cloud. At the most general level, cloud computing is the provision of dynamically scalable and often virtualised resources as a service over the Internet. A key benefit is that users do not need knowledge of, expertise in or control over the technology infrastructure in the cloud that supports the service.

Cloud computing services often provide common business applications online that are easily accessed from a web browser, while software and data are stored in the cloud.

Current cloud computing offerings, such as cloud disaster recovery, consist of managed services delivered from the cloud's IT infrastructure. Cloud disaster recovery services are accessible anywhere there is access to networking infrastructures; perhaps the most frequently used method of cloud DR access is a Web browser.

Who can use cloud DR?

Given that cloud technology is accessed easily via a Web browser, virtually any firm, of any size, can utilise backup and disaster recovery services from a cloud DR provider. Having said that, currently the focus for most vendors is medium to large organisations with sizeable IT budgets that want a way to back up and recover mission-critical data and to streamline data recovery operations while maintaining security and lowering costs. Properly configured and deployed, cloud DR technology can satisfy each objective.

What types of cloud DR service are available?

When properly configured and managed, the cloud can provide a cost-effective approach to emergency backup and restoration of critical data, applications and even operating systems. The key draw of cloud DR is that backup and recovery assets can be easily accessed and initiated in case of a disaster.

Users have two primary options: use cloud backup provision in which they back up to services such as those provided by Google, Amazon S3, Mozy, etc., to retain vital data and build their own secondary compute/storage infrastructure to recover to; or subscribe to cloud DR services offered by a growing number of suppliers, which offer disaster recovery services including the ability to work remotely from virtualised infrastructure at their data centres using your own secondary provision or using workstation hardware provided by the supplier.

These include Double-Take Cloud, which allows users to replicate to Amazon's Web services cloud and run apps from there in case of a disaster while getting their infrastructure back up; i365's EVault service, which similarly fires up a virtual replica of your systems in its cloud while you rebuild your physical IT resources; and Sungard's Availability Services, which also offer replication to the company's cloud but also offers the use of fixed and mobile physical computing resources at which staff can restart work after a disaster.

Cloud DR services market in the UK

Given the profile of cloud technology in the IT media, it's highly unlikely that any IT organisation is unaware of such services. The challenge is whether to be an early adopter or wait and see what happens and try to get a better deal. So far, in the UK, the response has largely been the latter. It's been the same with cloud disaster recovery services.

SearchStorage.co.UK recently surveyed its readers about their storage purchasing intentions, including cloud storage services. It found take-up so far to be low, but also found disaster recovery was among the most popular existing and intended uses of the cloud. Most people asked (78%) didn't use any cloud storage services at all for primary or secondary data. Less than one-tenth (9%) used a cloud service for primary data, 11% used cloud for secondary data and 11% used cloud as part of their disaster recovery plans. When asked for which types of data they would start using a cloud service in the coming year, 43% of respondents said they would not be using cloud services for any data and 35% said they didn't know if they would. Of the remainder, data for disaster recovery was the most popular use of cloud storage services planned for the coming year (15%).

Anecdotal information from consultants working in DR backs up these findings.

Andrew Hiles, Fellow of the Business Continuity Institute (FBCI) and managing director of Witney, Oxfordshire-based Kingswell International, said, "While private cloud applications are currently more popular, and managed disaster recovery services are gradually gaining acceptance, there is still a 'wait and see' attitude toward all sorts of cloud options. There remain issues of security, transparency, compliance, regulation, law and jurisdiction."

Benefits and limitations of cloud DR technology

Using full-service cloud disaster recovery provision means you always have backup and recovery assets standing by, but you only pay for them when you need them and only for as long as you need them. Benefits include real-time replication of data; access to additional infrastructure, such as servers; cross-platform replication of hardware and software to simplify replacement of damaged assets; unlimited scalability with little or no up-front provisioning; a pay-per-use billing model; and a secure and reliable infrastructure for all kinds of information requirements.

Be aware, however, that if you use a cloud backup service for DR rather than a full service including recovery provision, you will certainly have to provide your own secondary infrastructure and data restoration could be time-consuming.

Two particularly important benefits of cloud DR services are the avoidance of capital expenditure on hardware, software and services because you pay only for what is used and a reduction in the use of floor space at your premises, which also saves money.

But, the fact that cloud DR technology is not where you can see it and touch it may be cause for concern. Chris Oliver, FBCI and chief executive of The Oliver Company, based in Guernsey, said buyers should beware. "There have been several examples where close examination of the technology in an outsourced, managed service, supply chain model has shown potential holes," he said.

He added, "The advice to businesses is not just to check your contract, but examine with your vendor that built-in resilience and recovery are included in the network map."

Andrew Hiles agreed. "In addition to issues of backup and recovery, if the cloud involves servers and/or storage in France and/or the US, there are also issues of cryptographic standards imposed by those countries and data protection implications," he said.

Tips for implementing cloud DR

The benefits of cloud disaster recovery can be significant, both operationally and financially, but not without careful analysis of the pros and cons.

The following points provide a disaster recovery template that can be used when considering and implementing cloud disaster recovery:

  1. Review existing primary and backup storage assets, procedures, policies and vendors.
  2. Work out the costs incurred for each storage and backup asset.
  3. If not already using a cloud DR solution, research the technology and options.
  4. Inquire among peers to see if any are using cloud DR services.
  5. Determine which aspects of the existing storage model (such as primary storage, data backup and replication, types of data) could be addressed using a cloud DR solution.
  6. Prepare a tender and send it to several cloud DR managed service providers.
  7. Conduct a meeting of bidders to discuss their proposals.
  8. Contact vendors' customer references.
  9. Compare services and pricing.
  10. Define the most cost-effective and non-disruptive way to integrate cloud DR with your existing storage and DR infrastructure.
  11. Select the vendor that best satisfies requirements.
  12. Negotiate and execute primary contract, maintenance contract and service-level agreements (SLAs).
  13. Develop and launch project plan to complete the installation.
  14. Conduct tests of the cloud DR solution in concert with existing BC/DR plans and programmes.
  15. Update relevant documentation to reflect the new cloud DR capability.
  16. Schedule audits of cloud DR technology performance.

Cloud computing technology -- and disaster recovery as a major application of cloud -- offers benefits to organisations of all sizes. Despite potential challenges, with careful planning and due diligence, storage professionals can look forward to valuable backup and recovery benefits. Going forward, IT professionals should institute policies around what data is appropriate for cloud disaster recovery use and should evaluate deployments before they are made.

Paul Kirvan, CISA, CSSP, FBCI, CBCP, has more than 20 years of experience in business continuity management as a consultant, author and educator. He is also secretary of the Business Continuity Institute USA Chapter.

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