Disaster recovery and business continuity have evolved quickly in recent years. It’s not so long since disaster recovery simply meant taking tapes off-site, or even to a different part of the same site.
But now the options for disaster recovery – and the ease and speed of restoration in case of unforeseen events – have been boosted by virtualised environments, high-speed WAN connections and the cloud.
Meanwhile, customers’ attitudes to disaster recovery have also evolved. Once disaster recovery was seen as an obligation, enforced by law or regulation. Now, effective business continuity and disaster recovery are increasingly recognised as essential – and that businesses that don’t have such plans and systems in place usually go out of business when disaster strikes.
Some customers in Poland stick to the old methods, with the cheapest possible solutions carried out in-house. Organisations carry out risk assessments and often conclude that, while business continuity is a necessity, they don’t want to spend money on current technology that may cost a bit more, but is much more effective.
“We find organisations that can estimate the risk, but still choose the cheapest methods and do not want to pay for more advanced options,” says Jaroslaw Smulski, research manager at IDC Poland.
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Accelerating data recovery
A lot of companies store their key data on tapes and move them to vaults at another location. This protects data and enables the business to recover, but it’s an approach measured in timescales of several days and only protects the data that is moved before disaster strikes.
It’s still a common way of doing things in Poland, but such procedures are increasingly obsolete in the age of high-speed data networks, server virtualisation and the cloud.
Often nowadays those kind of approaches and timescales are simply not adequate, says Artur Matzka, director of infrastructure development at IT services provider Integrated Solutions.
“The cost of data loss or lack of access to information can be dangerous, and not only in financial terms. For companies operating in a really competitive market, even 10 days without access to key data could cause an outflow of customers and the death of the business,” he says.
“The consequences of a disaster can be data inaccessibility and, in extreme cases, even its destruction,” says Tadeusz Czichon, CEO at ATM, a Polish hosting and networks provider. “Such a situation leads to paralysis in decision-making processes and results in financial loss and corrupting the company's image.”
So, for an enterprise that wants more than to just take tapes off-site, there is a need for some kind of secondary disaster recovery site. Traditionally, that meant creating a physical mirror of the primary site, complete with a full software duplicate of the operating environment.
“Before the virtualisation era, such an investment was expensive. Mirroring the physical environments in separate locations could only be afforded by the biggest and richest companies,” says Zbigniew Szostakiewicz, service and datacentre development team manager at IT service provider, CK Zeto.
“But now almost every company can invest in a backup datacentre, because buying a single virtual server is no longer an expense a company cannot afford.”
Case study: Volkswagen Bank Poland
Volkswagen Bank Poland initiated a business continuity project so it could move beyond operations at only one location.
“We needed to ensure the ability to continue our business, but in another safe location,” says Kai Fischer, IT director at Volkswagen Bank Poland, which has its headquarters in Warsaw.
“Design assumptions are translated into numbers: The maximum time to restore the process (RTO – Recovery Time Objective) and the maximum potential data loss (RPO – Recovery Point Objective). These values enable us to define resource requirements and IT strategy with regard to the disaster recovery plan.”
Volkswagen Bank Poland turned to IBM with a proposal of co-operation. In response, IBM helped to translate the concept into concrete technological tools. It provided hardware and software, ensured optimal configuration and carried out testing.
The project took 14 months, including preparatory work. “The main challenge for us was to co-ordinate the project and configure different technologies,” says Pawel Bondar, business development executive, IBM Polska.
“The IT environment at Volkswagen Bank Poland is a complex heterogeneous structure. There are IBM technologies which co-operate with products from suppliers such as Cisco, Adva and CheckPoint. Integrating everything to achieve the RTO and RPO required knowledge, experience and a lot of work.”
Fischer says: “The plan took into account the creation of a spare contact centre with office space and the equipment needed to perform normal bank tasks.”
Virtualisation dramatically simplifies the deployment of disaster recovery services and significantly increases their efficiency
Krzysztof Waszkiewicz, VMware
Virtualisation and cloud change the game
IBM has provided server, network and storage hardware in its datacentre at Blonie, 30km west of Warsaw, and has assured the configuration of the whole system in data replication, switch failover and security. According to the disaster recovery plan, key business processes as well as systems supporting them must be restarted within one hour of disaster.
“Currently, failover between the primary and backup datacentres takes a short time. From the user’s perspective, there are no changes. In practice, it is impossible to notice the difference. Volkswagen Bank Poland can deliver its services even if the building and the infrastructure located there are not fit for use,” says Fischer.
“Virtualisation dramatically simplifies the deployment of disaster recovery services and significantly increases their efficiency,” says VMware business solutions architect, Krzysztof Waszkiewicz.
“Virtualisation simplifies disaster recovery by abstracting the physical hardware, data, operating system and applications to encapsulate them within a virtual machine.
“Virtualisation adds a key element, critical to modern disaster recovery: Unified management and automation. Typically, companies must manage multiple steps in disaster recovery, because it is required for disparate physical components and layers of the infrastructure. Modern disaster recovery focuses on protecting and restoring virtual machines.”
Disaster-recovery-as-a-service (DRaaS) is when data is replicated to hosted servers, physical or virtual, on a provider’s infrastructure.
“Data written to the primary datacentre is confirmed only after acknowledgement is received that it has been written to the backup datacentre. It means that, in case of emergency or disaster, the backup datacentre can immediately restore the system and start service provision, with zero lost data,” says Artur Matzka.
Case study: Lublin Coal Bogdanka
Lublin Coal Bogdanka (pictured above) is one of the largest coal mines in Poland and supplies mainly industrial customers. The dynamic growth of the company in recent years has caused the rapid development of its IT infrastructure.
In 2013 Bogdanka’s board of directors created a business strategy with one of its priorities the creation of a modern IT infrastructure to support the business and eliminate defects in data management.
“One of our priorities became ensuring high availability of data and its protection,” says Zbigniew Łoś, IT manager at LC Bogdanka.
“The company’s IT administrators were challenged to choose an IT architecture that avoids large expenditures but enables high availability for our IT systems.”
The company built out its own environment using virtualisation.
Now the entire IT architecture comprises three elements. The first is a cluster of VMware virtual servers. The second is the storage cluster built on DataCore SANsymphony storage software. The third is a cluster of servers for backing up the whole IT environment.
Implementing the virtual environment was like an operation on a living organism
Zbigniew Łoś, LC Bogdanka
Consolidating the IT infrastructure
"Virtualisation has enabled us to spread our systems over two locations. We doubled all critical components and systems to ensure continuity of operations," says Daniel Szymanski, IT principal administrator at Bogdanka.
“Implementing the virtual environment was like an operation on a living organism. We did not even have a test environment. However, we did it successfully without disturbing the work of the mine,” says Zbigniew Łoś.
But operating all IT systems in one location does not guarantee sufficient security, and data loss is a real threat. So, Bogdanka looked to DRaaS, provided by an external provider, while the mine’s existing systems were enhanced with new technologies.
“It was necessary to add VMware vSphere Site Recovery Manager software, which allowed us to manage virtual environments in the different locations,” says Łoś.
Virtualising the servers and storage has allowed the company to consolidate its IT infrastructure and re-use its existing resources to create a failover site.
“DRaaS tools eliminate the complexity of our traditional runbooks and automatically orchestrate all the steps needed to ensure the desired level of protection. Manual runbooks are no longer good enough to manage recovery plans for applications and expanding infrastructure,” says Szymanski.