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Solving Disaster Recovery with Virtualization

Industry: Education

Oklahoma City Public Schools (OKCPS) is a K-12 school district in central Oklahoma. OKCPS is comprised of 79 total schools, over 36,000 students and more than 4,400 employees.

Challenge

Like many large public school systems, OKCPS had various IT challenges. Dozens of sites to network, thousands of endpoints to support and limited IT staff to manage and maintain the sprawling environment. Worries about power consumption, server sprawl and the high travel/maintenance costs of supporting a distributed server environment had increased as well.

Solution

OKCPS has an experienced and talented Network Services team but they felt needed a technology partner with deep expertise in Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery solutions. OKCPS engaged ISG Technology, a technology solution provider with extensive experience helping clients solve BC/DR challenges.

As a starting point, ISG worked with the Network Services team to perform a detailed Assessment of the OKCPS server, storage and network infrastructure. The Assessment yielded a solution design which would not only solve the DR challenge but consolidate the sprawling OKCPS infrastructure down to working data centers. The two data centers could then be configured to work together in production while providing failover capabilities in the event of a site failure.

The design included virtualization of numerous OKCPS server workloads using VMware ESX on HP C-class Blades. Once virtualized, workloads become “portable,” since virtual machines are not tied to physical hardware.

The design also included a pair of EMC CLARiiON storage arrays teamed with EMC RecoverPoint for bi-directional data replication between the two data centers. Replication assures that if one data center has an outage, data loss, or disaster the other data center can assume full function.

To simplify the recovery process, ISG recommended VMware Site Recovery Manager (SRM), a DR tool for virtualized environments which leverages EMC replication capabilities to automate the flow of the recovery process. SRM eliminates complex manual recovery steps and minimized the need for human intervention during a disaster — effectively a “push button” DR solution. SRM also provides a non-disruptive testing environment, so the plan can be validated and/or amended as necessary.

The final solution component was for Backup at each site using Data Domain appliances to provide an additional layer of data protection. Data Domain is a tapeless backup solution which provides industry leading data “deduplication” which can dramatically decrease storage capacity requirements and costs.

Results

Implementation of the solution went smoothly, according to Steve Washam, Director of Network Services for OKCPS. “The project went very well. Our team did a great job. Dean Coit (ISG Solution Architect) went above and beyond the call of duty to help us.”

“ISG’s expertise was critical to our success.”

Steve Washam, Director of Network Services for OKCPS

The key result achieved was a robust DR plan which can be tested, amended and validated during business hours without having to take down production systems. The new DR plan also provides detailed test reports which can be provided to auditors upon request.

Another notable benefit of the solution was a significant reduction in power consumption and energy costs. Prior to implementation, OKCPS had reached the capacity limits of the existing power plant. But the virtualized environment reduced power requirements and eliminated the need to invest in a new, larger UPS.

A final benefit resulted from the consolidation and centralization. The bloated travel and maintenance costs of supporting the former distributed environment were all but eliminated in the new solution.

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Is your business ready for a winter storm?

With snow finally falling in many parts of the country, winter has finally made its presence known. The first snowfall of the year is truly a wonderful event, and yet it poses a serious risk to businesses. Heavy snowstorms can cause damage to a company, both to physical infrastructure and the ability to conduct business.

In fact, AccuWeather found that winter storms cost the American economy $3.7 billion in 2014 alone. This number only accounts for the physical damage to buildings, leaving out the devastating cost snowstorms can cause in terms of downtime.

“Winter storms cost the American economy $3.7 billion in 2014.”

Although that number is frighteningly high, heavy snowfall doesn’t have to completely disrupt your revenue stream. With the right tools, and the right help from an experienced disaster recovery provider like ISG Technology, any business can weather the storm.

You’ll need to prepare the office

Just because you’re not able to control the severity of a snowstorm doesn’t mean you have to be at its mercy. Like many parts of life, failing to prepare for heavy snow is preparing to fail. There really isn’t anything big you can do to get ready for one of these storms. Rather, there are a lot of little ways you can prepare your company for massive snowfall.

Ready, a public service campaign created by the American government, has a large list of ways people can prepare for heavy snow. The list is targeted mostly at the average citizen, but it works just as well for a company preparing a disaster recovery plan for the winter.

Everyone should have rock salt and sand ready in the event of icy roads. This is great advice for companies with their own parking lots, as having clients and employees getting stuck in the ice every 10 minutes simply isn’t good for business.

Pushing cars in the snow is no fun, invest in salt and sand now. Having salt and sand will help you avoid the embarrassing situation of pushing a client out of your parking lot .

On top of that, businesses should invest in shovels for days when snow falls during work hours. Note here that the word used was shovels not shovel. Nobody wants to scrape ice and snow off of pavement alone, and your employees will thank you for spending the extra money.

Get help from the experts

Although all of this is all great advice for those wishing to ready themselves for the winter, there are a whole host of other aspects to consider when making a winterized disaster recovery plan.

Do you know how long your IT systems will last without maintenance in the event of a major snowstorm? How about what to do when the snowfall gets too heavy and crashes through your facility’s roof?

These questions and many more all require a disaster recovery expert to answer them, and attempting to make a plan without experienced personnel simply isn’t feasible. Thankfully, ISG Technology is here to make the process simple, easy and affordable.

If you’d like to make sure your business is ready for winter, or any disaster that might come your way, make sure to check out ISG Technology’s disaster recovery page today.

3 things the boardroom needs to know about disaster recovery

Keeping a business running takes a lot of hard work and effort from the boardroom. A modern company of any size has quite a lot going on, and executives are constantly busy with tasks that keep the money flowing. This generally means delegating work that isn’t of an immediate concern to other departments. A lot of the time, creating and developing a disaster recovery plan falls into the category of work that gets pushed to the IT department.

While your IT employees certainly know more than the boardroom about the operations of your technological equipment and data systems, that doesn’t mean you should avoid taking an active role in disaster recovery. A solid plan in the event of a catastrophe is vital to any company’s continued success, and as such there are a few things every executive needs to know about disaster recovery.

“Disaster is coming to your business.”

1. Data loss and downtime are an eventuality

When discussing disaster recovery in the boardroom, it’s important to realize that it isn’t a conversation about if you’ll need a plan, but when you’ll need to implement one. Talking about an event that disrupts your company’s ability to conduct business is uncomfortable to say the least, but pushing this discussion to the side as a mere possibility is unproductive and seriously dangerous. Whether you want to think about it or not, disaster is coming to your business. The question is whether or not you’re ready for it.

The 2014 EMC Global Data Protection Index supports the eventuality of downtime in the modern workplace. This survey of 3,300 IT decision-makers, which was conducted for EMC by Vanson Bourne, found that 64 percent of respondents had encountered a data loss event in the previous year. This alarmingly high number simply goes to show how important a serious discussion is about creating a disaster recovery solution. Bad things can happen anywhere at any time to anyone, and acting like you’re above these kinds of events will only make your company fall harder.

2. Outside forces are the least of your worries

When you think about the word “disaster,” what’s the first thing that pops into your head? Maybe it’s a tornado ripping through your company’s headquarters, or maybe it’s more subtle like flood waters seeping into your basement and destroying your electrical equipment. Well, when it comes to disasters that result in data loss, these events can’t hold a candle to what your employees can do.

Tornados aren't the only disaster you have to worry about. The worst disasters are a lot more discreet than a tornado.

According to the 2015 Data Health Check study conducted by Databarracks, the leading cause of data loss is human error. The report found that 24 percent of all data loss events studied had roots in people making some kind of mistake. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should stop trusting your staff. Your employees are the backbone of your business, working day in and day out to make the company successful.

That being said, no one’s perfect. People make mistakes, and sometimes these missteps end up costing the company big time. Your employees are in constant contact with company data, which means they are the biggest risk factor when it comes to data loss. This is why it’s absolutely vital for the boardroom to take an active role in disaster recovery implementation. While each worker is a vital cog in the machine in your company, they’re also a liability, and this risk needs to be mitigated with a solid disaster recovery solution.

“Your staff simply doesn’t know enough about disaster recovery.”

3. It’s cheaper to outsource

With the number of resources offered by the Internet, a lot of people are opting to work on something themselves rather than hire someone to do it. While this is fine when it comes to a new porch or changing your oil, developing a disaster recovery plan in-house simply isn’t a good idea. To begin, your staff simply doesn’t know enough about disaster recovery to implement an effective plan. Your IT employees obviously know more about your data systems than anyone else, but creating a plan that mitigates risk in the event of a data loss event may not be in their wheelhouse.

While this should be enough to convince you to outsource a disaster recovery solution, recent data from Computer Economics has found that doing so is actually cheaper than creating a plan in-house. The IT Outsourcing Statistics 2015/2016 found that 92 percent of IT organizations surveyed found that they spent the same amount of money or less outsourcing their disaster recovery plan than when they created one on-site.

This means that by creating a disaster recovery plan with your own employees, not only are you getting a less effective solution, but you’re also paying as much or more than if you’d gone to a disaster recovery expert. Obviously, your IT department is going to play a vital role in the creation of a plan in the event of a disaster. However, your company would be better served if these employees spent their time working on internal IT goals rather than developing the plan all by themselves.

Executives have a lot on their plates when it comes to keeping a company operational. That being said, the boardroom needs to take a more active role in promoting a solid disaster recovery plan for their business. Companies without a solid plan are a ticking time bomb, and if your enterprise doesn’t have a disaster recovery solution, now is the time to act. Thankfully, ISG Technology is here to help. Take a look at our Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity page and see why ISG Technology is a leader in disaster recovery solution development.

What can cloud-based DRaaS bring to your company?

As businesses are now completely dependent on data and computer systems, Disaster Recovery as a Service is quickly becoming something companies need in order to keep operations running. In fact, Transparency Market Research found that the DRaaS market is expected to rise at a compound annual growth rate of 36 percent through 2022

Obviously, a lot of companies are beginning to see the many benefits of outsourcing their disaster recovery needs. That being said, many of these businesses have yet to integrate the cloud into their plans. 

While cloud-based disaster recovery plans aren't for everybody, they actually have many advantages that the average business can benefit from. 

The cloud allows for faster recovery

A lot of the cloud's popularity comes from the massive benefits to efficiency that it offers. This level of efficiency is also seen within disaster recovery plans that are based around cloud services. 

As Bill Claybrook stated in a TechTarget article, much of the cloud's agility in putting a company back on its feet when disaster strikes has to do with its physical server requirements. The cloud needs fewer servers than required by traditional disaster recovery plans, and as such has fewer actions to carry out when executing the plan. This means faster recovery for your company, which translates to less downtime and less money lost. 

Another great benefit of DRaaS is the use of service-level agreements by both the managed service provider and the company receiving the disaster recovery solution. An SLA lays out the MSP's minimum requirements in terms of services provided. In this case, an SLA can define a concrete timeline for disaster recovery, which can give company administrators peace of mind knowing that their business will be up and running within the preordained timeline. 

Costs are lower

When you do disaster recovery in-house, you're basically dumping a lot of extra work on your IT professionals. These employees have a lot of jobs outside of disaster recovery, and DRaaS allows them to fulfill your company's technical goals without being hindered by working on and testing a DR plan. 

Costs are also lowered in terms of hardware when receiving DRaaS. When you outsource your disaster recovery to an MSP, you can rest assured that the vendor has hardware that is far superior to your own. An MSP's livelihood comes from having reliable services, which means having some of the best equipment money can buy. 

This means that you'll be getting the benefits of the best hardware without having to actually pay for it yourself. And considering the fact that a Databarracks survey found that 21 percent of data loss events occur due to hardware failure, you can rest assured that your MSP's equipment will work better and longer than your own. 

That being said, the cloud isn't for everyone. Some companies simply need on-site disaster recovery, while others would benefit from a hybrid of these solutions.

Thankfully, ISG Technology makes choosing a DR solution simple. With services ranging from cloud-based, hybrid or even on-site disaster recovery models, ISG Technology can help your company develop a plan to increase business continuity and decrease downtime

Study confirms deep connection between disaster recovery and business continuity

A study conducted by Databarracks revealed that most people within the field of IT see disaster recovery and business continuity as codependent – and rightfully so. The survey of 404 IT professionals from 19 different business sectors revealed that 88 percent of these IT workers had a specific disaster recovery plan embedded within their business continuity plan. Furthermore, 7 percent of businesses that currently had a business continuity plan without a disaster recovery solution planned on creating one within the next year. 

These numbers simply speak to the importance of disaster recovery solutions, as well as the often forgotten difference – and link – between disaster recovery and business continuity.

Many people think these terms are interchangeable, however, the reality is that disaster recovery is simply the portion of a business continuity plan that has to do with saving data to prepare for a disastrous event. Business continuity as a whole sees the bigger picture by trying to get the entire business back to working order, as opposed to just scraping by after a calamitous event.. 

What types of disasters are hitting IT?
The Databarracks survey also had some interesting information about the leading causes of data loss within the IT industry. The study found that 24 percent of disastrous events resulting in lost data were the result of human error.

This is just above hardware failure, which was second with 21 percent. What this means is that companies need to keep the mistakes of their employees in mind when in the process of creating a business continuity and disaster recovery plan. 

Thankfully, professionals in the disaster recovery and business continuity field like ISG Technology can help companies navigate the tricky process of creating these types of plans. With over 30 years of disaster recovery experience, ISG Technology has a team of experts that can work to create a business continuity and disaster recovery plan that is right for your business

Making it through extreme weather with your network and business intact

It is hard not to get excited about the start of summer. With its warm weather and longer days, summer brings with it a sense of freedom and happiness that is greatly anticipated after the harsh cold and endless nights of winter. However, summer does not just bring along sunshine and smiles. It also brings strong storms – lightning, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc. – that can severely disrupt businesses and their technological infrastructure.

"40% of small businesses won't reopen after being affected by a weather-related disaster."

With extreme weather on its way, businesses need to get a jump start on their disaster recovery and business continuity planning. Enterprises can be severely affected by natural disasters, leading to lost revenue and major repair costs. Storms can have such a negative effect on companies that 40 percent of small businesses will not reopen after being affected by a weather-related disaster this year, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Luckily, organizations with a strong business continuity solution in place can weather the storm and come out just as well as they went in. Here are a few tips to help enterprises put together the best disaster recovery plan possible:

Businesses need to put recovery plans in place before severe weather disrupts operations.Businesses need to put recovery plans in place before severe weather disrupts operations.

Understand how a disruption will affect different assets
There are a variety of different variables that must be considered when putting a business continuity plan in place. How will employees access company programs and files? What information is critical? Who needs to be made aware of a service disruption or office closure? All of these things and much more must be addressed by a recovery plan.

In a severe weather event, the majority of employees will be accessing files remotely, so a cloud-based solution is the most reliable option to keep operations running smoothly. A cloud disaster recovery as a service option will keep business going after a disruption, but not all files will be available immediately, nor should they be. Non-essential data should be given low priority in DR solutions, saving space for files crucial to daily operations. Utilizing the cloud will also provide administrators a way to contact employees, vendors and any other necessary personnel that the office has experienced a disruption.

Test your plan beforehand
It is important to identify any problems or gaps in your DR plan before it needs to be put to use so any issues can be fixed. Scheduling periodic tests ensures the most reliable business continuity possible. Make sure to test each necessary system – phones, computers, data recovery, servers, etc. – separately and as a whole to discover any pain points before the real thing happens.

Work with a trusted industry partner
Putting a reliable DR plan in place can be difficult, but working with a knowledgeable service provider can make everything run smoothly. Companies like ISG Technology offer cloud-based solutions customized for the client that address the specific needs of each organization. ISG's expert staff take care of the maintenance required to keep a DRaaS solution running, letting users focus on other critical functions in times of emergency. Not only is ISG's staff prepared to keep your business running during extreme weather, but its infrastructure is ready as well. ISG's Missouri data center is located within a limestone bunker, shielding it from practically every kind of extreme weather event that might come its way. With such a strong network of facilities and staff, disaster recovery services from ISG are the most reliable choice to keep enterprises running no matter what mother nature brings.