Syntel's disaster recovery formula for customer-centric operations

IT and KPO solutions provider Syntel employs 4,000 software professionals in Mumbai alone. A look at the disaster recovery strategy that Syntel banks on.

Disaster recovery (DR) for an IT/ITES company differs tremendously from DR in other verticals such as BFSI, retail and manufacturing, and Syntel Inc is no exception. Syntel, a provider of IT and knowledge process outsourcing (KPO) solutions, has global development centers in India and the US. Syntel's Mumbai development centers currently employ over 4,000 software professionals, with another 2,000 located in Chennai. Its main priority, unlike other verticals, is not to have real-time applications available all the time.

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Syntel started its DR journey in 2004, and since then it has been constantly looking at how it can improve its disaster recovery processes. As an IT/ITES company, the disaster recovery plan is more customer-centric. According to Muralidharan Ramachandran, the CIO of Syntel Inc, "Disaster recovery is an evolving activity. It does not happen totally in a single phase. It's all about keeping risk within acceptable levels."

Syntel is an ISO 27001 certified organization, and according to one of the applicable ISO guidelines, it is required to do periodic risk assessment of its assets. Says Muralidharan, "Disaster recovery happens at two levels for us. First, it is at the base infrastructure level. At the second level, one has to look at things from the business standpoint."

When it comes to base infrastructure, it is about looking for redundancy on the network, storage and server level. The next step is to see what data is being stored, and how to take care of the information from the infrastructure perspective. From the business standpoint, one has to ensure business continuity.

According to Muralidharan, "There is nothing such as an ideal DR plan. It's a question of the risk you take, and this boils down to the risk versus cost mitigation analysis. One does to arrive at an optimum level."

Syntel's DR setup

Syntel has disaster recovery at an internal level and for its customers. For internal DR, the organization goes by the drill-down approach which looks at the business impact. No consultants were involved while implementing the company's disaster recovery processes; it was done by the in-house team which consists of 20 DR and BCP experts.

Internal disaster recovery has a lot to do with people and processes. Internally, Syntel has put Peoplesoft ERP, CRM and messaging applications on DR. The company's disaster recovery site is situated in Pune, where Syntel has a huge campus. However, Syntel is contemplating a shift of its DR site to Chennai where it is building another campus. Syntel has multiple DS3 circuits between its offices to support its business and disaster recovery requirements. The company keeps re-using its equipment for DR. A periodic upgrade is also done. Their entire infrastructure is spread across physical servers and virtual environments. Syntel uses a combination of tape-based backup as well as snapshot backups for some of its critical applications. It also uses SAN and DAS storage technologies for its DR requirements.

Being an IT/ITES company, the disaster recovery is not very structured nor is it based on any model. Rather, it has been customized for very specific purposes because it has to be really flexible to take care of customer needs. Says Muralidharan, "We have distributed our infrastructure across multiple locations in Mumbai, Pune and Chennai. There are group offices in the US. Internal DR is very little — it's just a couple of applications." It is the customers' data that Syntel really needs to be worried about, hence there is a much larger picture to look at.

None of the internal applications at Syntel are real-time applications. Most of them can wait for hours. "Even if our ERP is down for four hours it is OK. The heavens are not going to fall," quips Muralidharan.

For risk assessment, Syntel constantly does impact analysis for the business side. Disaster recovery eventually has to have a link with the BCP plan. The assessment is done from the productivity and compliance standpoint because some of the applications can have compliance issues. At the individual level, assessment is done by the respective company. To protect information, Syntel does daily data backup. Weekly backup is stored offsite and monthly backup is shifted across sites. The RTO and RPO for different applications are different. Thus, messaging applications work on not more than two hours of RTO.

The main benefits achieved are availability of data without loss. Also, Syntel has got the edge to demonstrate its competitiveness in the market.

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