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How the cloud speeds up the disaster recovery process

If a critical system goes down or your data is lost, how long would it take your organization to restore operations? For many businesses, it will come down to what disaster recovery efforts are in place, and if these initiatives are successful in practice.

Unfortunately, a number of companies are not ready for emergency situations, and it can take a significant amount of time to restore operations. The 2014 State of Global Disaster Recovery Preparedness report found that nearly 25 percent of respondents lost most or all data center functions for hours or even days, with losses ranging from thousands to millions of dollars. This isn't even considering the reputation and customer losses that downtime incurs. Implementing cloud solutions can significantly speed up the disaster recovery process and improve your operations in a few key ways:

1. Accessible from anywhere

Backing up critical files and assets provides a layer of flexibility to ensure that you can access and restore systems quickly. For data loss situations, the cloud provides instant connection to the necessary files, preventing heavy fines from industry governing bodies to recover information. This also minimizes productivity deficits and missed revenue opportunities. Accessibility to this essential data will help streamline recovery while reducing potential costs.

Cloud assets are available anywhere with an internet connection, speeding up recovery time.Cloud assets are available anywhere with an internet connection, speeding up recovery time.

What happens if work machines malfunction or the power goes out in your facility? You can no longer operate at that location and must wait for the issue to be fixed. The cloud makes it possible to conduct business outside of the office, allowing parts to be ordered to repair hardware or the power to be restored. However, as Ars Technica noted, this measure is only a short-term stopgap for many organizations. Your cloud disaster recovery plan must anticipate region-wide outages or other events to ensure that you're ready to cope with them if they occur.

2. Ease of use

Tape and disks have been used for system backups for decades. While these methods have their place in disaster recovery strategies, their age is starting to show, particularly when compared with cloud benefits. Tape and disks must be kept under particular conditions and are susceptible to environmental damage and deterioration. Backing up to and restoring data from these devices can also take a significantly long time and impede your operations.

Cloud backups run in the background on a scheduled basis, recording and saving changes to every essential document. This ensures that organizations have the most recent version of data on hand upon restoration. According to an infographic by ERS Computer Solutions, 52 percent of companies are moving to the cloud for disaster recovery efforts due to its ease of use, leaving the complexity of traditional solutions behind. In fact, 32 percent of respondents using cloud for disaster recovery are able to recover within 24 hours, compared with only 23 percent of those that don't leverage the cloud. An additional 20 percent of cloud users are able to restore operations within a few hours, while only 9 percent of non-cloud users could say the same.

"If an emergency happens, how do you know that your strategy will work?"

3. Automated testing

Many organizations believe that because they have a disaster recovery plan in place, that's good enough. However, if an emergency happens, how do you know that your strategy will work? Are you certain that your backup methods have been recording and restoring the right pieces of information? When disaster strikes, if you don't have the necessary information on hand or if your backups aren't working, it will take a lot of money and a significant amount of time to restore everything – if it can be restored at all.

You might be saying, "But we don't have time to test our plan every time a change is made." With the cloud, you can easily automate your disaster recovery testing to eliminate the guesswork and ensure a predictable, reliable recovery program, according to IT Biz Advisor. Evaluating your plan with automation will increase visibility into service-level agreements, adhere to regulatory requirements and reduce potential costs of a disaster.

Disaster recovery can be a tricky pursuit, but with the cloud, organizations can be better prepared for an emergency. Cloud-based solutions are available anywhere and easy to use, driving faster restoration capabilities. Contact ISG today to find out more about how the cloud can improve your disaster recovery strategy.

Is your disaster recovery strategy foolproof?

No one wants to imagine what it would be like if an emergency situation impacted his or her business. Unfortunately, this is exactly what organizational leaders must do if they hope to get through various scenarios and recover quickly. According to a survey by Nationwide Insurance, more than 75 percent of small business owners don't have a disaster plan. To make matters worse, 52 percent estimate that it would take a minimum of three months to restore operations following a disaster. Here are a few tips to ensure your disaster recovery strategy is foolproof:

1. Take stock of hardware and software

If a machine or application goes offline, how would that impact your ability to operate? Business leaders must evaluate each piece of hardware and software to determine what items are mission-critical to support. This level of detail will help prioritize what elements are restored first and which ones can wait. CIO suggested keeping vendor contact information on hand at all times to quickly reach out for guidance. Managed service providers typically offer round the clock assistance, ensuring peace of mind during pivotal situations.

Businesses must take stock of essential hardware and software.Businesses must take stock of essential hardware and software.

Keep in mind that any infrastructure changes must be reflected within your disaster recovery strategy. If these adjustments aren't accounted for, your business could be left without essential functions and prolong recovery time. Evaluate and adapt your plan every six months to accommodate any modifications.

2. Determine your disaster tolerance

Not all scenarios are the same. They all have different implications, severity levels and means of recovering. As The Business Journals contributor Heinan Landa noted, there are five event levels, ranging from inconvenient to catastrophic. It will be important to determine your tolerance threshold for each category based on how much downtime you can afford and your tolerance for lost data. This evaluation will help determine the best course to take to recover quickly and how your employees should respond to particular situations.

The tolerance level should take into account the variety of situations that can happen to your specific business. These scenarios could come as a result of your industry, location, dependence on technology and budget. You must set boundaries that follow these characteristics to ensure you have the processes and solutions in place to restore operations quickly.

"Running a drill provides critical insight into your DR plan."

3. Test your strategy

While it's great to have a disaster recovery plan established, you can't set it and forget about it. Effective disaster recovery requires training employees and testing the strategy regularly to identify any gaps. Of the organizations that have a DR plan, 40 percent test it once annually, according to CIO Insight. Another 22 percent test it rarely and 6 percent don't test it at all. These numbers are continuing to improve, but a number of businesses still aren't testing out their DR strategy as much as they should be.

Running a drill provides critical insight to demonstrate just how effective your DR plan is. If there are any issues or gaps, make changes to the strategy to cover them – and then run the test again. Evaluating your plan on a regular basis will account for infrastructure and personnel changes and provide peace of mind that any adjustments to the plan will be effective.

Disaster recovery isn't the coolest topic for business leaders, but it's one of the most vital discussions to have to protect your organization. By taking inventory of critical systems, determining your disaster tolerance and testing your strategy regularly, you will be able to foolproof your DR plan. You can have peace of mind that you're prepared for emergency events and are able to restore operations quickly.

Will your DR solution come through in the clutch?

Customers value an organization's reliability and ease of access, so whenever unplanned downtime occurs, it not only costs businesses in lost sales, it also damages their reputation. To prevent this type of situation, many companies leverage a disaster recovery solution to get them back online as quickly as possible. However, are you confident that your DR solution will come through in the clutch? Let's take a look at how businesses can ensure that their DR plan works effectively when they need it most.

Document the plan

It's important to have the DR strategy fully documented for training purposes and to guide employees during difficult situations. When there's chaos in the office, it can help to have a policy ready to show workers what steps need to be taken to mitigate the problem. However, only 60 percent of companies actually have a documented DR plan, according to Zetta's "2016 State of Disaster Recovery" report. Of those that are confident in their DR plan, 78 percent have a formally documented plan. It's important to establish this type of mindset to help teams calmly and effectively handle unexpected events.

Organizations should routinely test their DR solution.Organizations should routinely test their DR solution.

Test regularly

Once you have a plan in place, your work is just beginning. Even if you believe that your solution is going to be effective, how can you know that for sure? For example, if backups are a part of your plan, what happens if they malfunction or don't have the information that you require? It's vital to routinely test your DR solution down to the finest details to identify any holes or factors that hadn't been considered. As TechTarget contributor George Crump noted, you won't be able to do a complete test every time because it can be expensive and time-consuming. However, partial testing should be done on a quarterly basis, and a full-scale test should be executed once a year.

Testing is an important part of maintaining a DR solution to ensure that it stays in sync with the production environment. If new hardware or personnel are added into the mix, for example, the DR plan must reflect these changes as soon as possible. Testing offers a chance to review what items have changed since the previous test and allows decision-makers to update the plan. This will address any configuration changes, preventing data loss and other operational failures.

Utilize capable tools

"When downtime occurs, you'll want a DR solution that you know you can rely on."

When downtime occurs, you'll want a DR solution that you know you can rely on. If it lacks functionality or is too complex, it could just create more bottlenecks and make it challenging to restore operations quickly. Zetta's report found that 37 percent of respondents believe their DR solution is simply too difficult to use. It's important to not only have a tool that meets your needs, but also is user-friendly. Choosing such a solution will help employees catch on quickly and effectively guide them through difficult situations.

When it comes to tools, there are a wide variety of options to choose from. However, it's important to get a solution that integrates well with other programs. TechTarget contributor Jon Toigo noted that businesses might be looking at storage hardware, continuous data protection, data backup, virtualization and cloud tools. Develop a DR strategy with testing in mind, particularly how all of these solutions fit together and the best way that they would be evaluated. There might be a tool that has a number of these features, making it easy to test and perfect for your DR needs.

Disaster can strike at any time and can come in a number of forms. With the right tools and vendor support, plan documentation and strategy testing, you can ensure that your DR solution comes through in the clutch.

Backup and Disaster Recovery: What's the Difference?

Unexpected downtime and compromised files are major threats to modern businesses as attack vectors continue to expand. As a result, many organizations are working to better protect their information through backup and disaster recovery. While these two initiatives have similar goals – protecting a company and its data – they should not be used interchangeably.

Backup and disaster recovery are two separate assets that can be used in tandem for an effective business strategy. Knowing the differences between these initiatives will help managers understand what they entail and where they fit into the grander scheme of business continuity efforts.

Backup business data

Backups are essential to disaster recovery strategies, but not every situation that calls for backups happens on a disaster scale or causes major business downtime. For example, if an employee accidentally deletes an important file, he or she can easily retrieve it if the document was archived or backed up. A backup initiative is the first line of defense against losing files due to human error or equipment failure, BizTechMagazine contributor James E. Gaskin noted. Backups are the most basic form of file security and accessibility that an organization can utilize.

Backups are the first part of a disaster recovery strategy.Backups are the first part of a disaster recovery strategy.

Traditionally, companies would back up their important data onto tapes on a scheduled basis. However, the physical nature of this technology made it vulnerable to adverse conditions and prolonged use. Once security in the cloud improved, a new doorway was opened up for businesses to store and access their critical information. It's highly advised for organizations to evaluate their documents and back them up according to priority. Backup initiatives should follow the 3-2-1 rule: three backup copies, stored across two different mediums like hard drives and the cloud, with one stored offsite. Using this method, organizations can ensure that they always have an up-to-date version of their data available.

Prepare with disaster recovery strategies

As noted earlier, backups are a significant part of disaster recovery, but they are just the beginning. In order to have a truly effective disaster recovery strategy, businesses must have the right recovery systems connected to its data to reflect the production environment as well as the right people and processes in place when needed, Forbes contributor JP Blaho noted. Such a plan improves resiliency against events such as adverse weather events, cyberattacks, outages and other disaster situations.

"It's vital for operations to get back on track."

Disaster or unexpected downtime can severely impact a business's ability to recover and retain its unblemished reputation. It's vital for operations to get back on track as soon as possible, and a comprehensive disaster recovery strategy is the guideline that will help organizations get there. An industry survey of IT professionals found that 54 percent of respondents had a data outage of at least eight hours within the past five years, The Wall Street Journal reported. These events happened for a variety of reasons, including hardware malfunctions, power outages, human error, malware attacks and data corruption. However, despite these events, 40 percent of participants didn't have a documented recovery plan. Organizations must not only ensure that they create a comprehensive disaster recovery plan, they must also train employees and test their strategies at least once a year to identify any gaps that need improvement.

Protecting a business is no easy feat, but backups and disaster recovery are major pieces needed for this effort. Understanding the differences between the two initiatives and the situations where they are used will help organizations utilize them more effectively and establish a clearer strategy for business continuity. Preparing today can help avoid critical events in the future.

3-2-1 Backup Rules Best Practices

Companies that backup to tape as their offsite backup often aren’t aware of what recovering from tape looks like until they unfortunately have to live through it. Depending on the nature of the failure and the extent of the data involved, that type of recovery can take days to restore “business as usual” functionality.

Image result for 3-2-1 backup rule

What Backup Is… and What It Isn’t

Data backups are critical for data protection and recovery, but they should not be a substitute for other important parts of your IT strategy:
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  • Backup is for data protection and targeted item recovery:
    It is not for archive. Archives ideally will be indexed for search, have a managed retention policy, and will be stored on less expensive storage mediums.
  • It is not for disaster recovery. It is nearly impossible to test a full environment recovery scenario when relying on this method. It will often require 100% more equipment overhead to have the empty equipment in standby, equipment not providing any usefulness or return on investment
  • It is not a failover solution. Recovery times with this method should be measured in weeks, not hours.

Snapshots are not backup:

  • Snapshots can be used as one part of a backup strategy, but provide no protection on their own in scenarios where the storage devices have failed or are no longer available
  • Snapshots are usually not very granular and are commonly the recovery method of last resort
  • Snapshots are not disaster recovery on their own, only a part of a comprehensive plan

The untested data recovery plan is both useless and a waste of time to create:

  • Make time for testing, it will always be worth it.
  • Do not let the single point of failure be a human, involve many members of the team in the process so that when the time comes to execute your plan it does not have to wait for the only one who knows how.



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Disaster Recovery

When creating your disaster recovery plan, it’s all about expecting the unexpected. In order to rest easy that your disaster recovery and business continuity plans are secure, you need to make sure you have all your bases covered and are not cutting corners now that can cost you greatly later on! In the infographic below, we walk through how to prepare your disaster recovery plan and how the cloud plays a role in your plan creation.

disaster-recovery




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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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Colocation: Having your cake and eating it, too (Part 2 of 2)

In our previous article in this series, we discussed the many benefits of colocation. While there are obviously many advantages to this service, some businesses are better suited for a colocation package than others. There are a lot of factors to consider before implementing such a plan. Chief among them is to fully understand what your company is and what it will be. How much storage space do you currently require? Do you see massive growth in your organization’s future? What are your capital expenditure and operational expenditure requirements for data storage?

These aren’t easy questions to answer, but they are absolutely vital in understanding whether or not colocation is right for your business. So, with that in mind, which companies should be looking into colocation?

Colocation has benefits across multiple organizations. Many different kinds of businesses can benefit from off-premises data storage.

Who benefits the most?

While we’ve already discussed the cost advantages of colocation, reduced capital expenditures are something just about any company could benefit from. Colocation has advantages for businesses of all sizes, but it truly excels for smaller companies or organizations that are predicting a lot of growth in their business. This is because colocation works wonders when it comes to scalability.

When your business grows, your data needs grow with it. While you obviously want your operation to continue to develop and mature, handling these increased data storage requirements can be incredibly hard to handle. In past years, scaling up generally meant having to requisition more and more space for your servers. If your business was still in its infancy or your facility just didn’t have a lot of space, this was a lot easier said than done.

With a colocation package from a managed service provider, the sky’s the limit in terms of your data needs. Scaling up simply requires the purchase of new hardware as well as a renegotiation of your terms. Never again will you have to worry about where you’ll put yet another server.

What should you be looking for in a colocation partner?

You’ve taken a hard look at the data and scalability requirements of your facility and have decided that colocation is right for you. Now it’s time to search for a provider that can give your company what it needs. When it comes to selecting a partner, there are a few requirements every business owner should be aware of.

First and foremost, you should do research into what kind of surveillance you can expect from this provider. Will your data systems be monitored at all times by a fully-functioning staff? If so, how knowledgeable are these employees, and will they be easily reached in the event of a late-night IT issue? On top of that, you need to know if the facility has backup generators in the event of a power failure.

“40 percent of small businesses close permanently after a natural disaster.”

Aside from these concerns, another area you should focus on is the MSP’s involvement in disaster recovery. Harvey Betan, a business continuity consultant, stated in a TechTarget article that colocation facilities work well as a backup disaster recovery location, as they are generally meant to be far away from your building. Considering the Red Cross has reported that nearly 40 percent of small businesses close permanently after a natural disaster, having your data in a separate location could prove incredibly useful.

Thankfully, ISG Technology has the ability to facilitate all of these needs and more. After years of experience in the disaster recovery business, ISG Technology can help ensure the safety of your data. What’s more, we guarantee 24/7/365 monitoring of the data systems within our facility, and our backup generators help to ensure you can access your data when you need it most.

Colocation: Having your cake and eating it too (Part 1 of 2)

With all of the information collected as a normal course of conducting business these days, it’s not surprising so many companies are beginning to focus more heavily on their data storage needs. Keeping things in line used to mean having a properly labeled file cabinet, but client information has evolved well beyond this.

As a solution to storage woes, many companies are beginning to lean toward colocation. This is where a business takes its own servers and stores them at an outside data center. Once the servers have been transported, the facility’s staff take care of requirements such as cooling and bandwidth. The popularity of this service has been exploding recently, and MarketsandMarkets has predicted the global colocation market to be hit more than $54 billion by 2020.

Colocation is an amazing innovation, so let’s take some time to discuss the advantages of this service in depth:

Colocation has a lot of benefits. Colocation just makes sense for many businesses.

Advantages you can expect

As touched on above, one of the biggest reasons companies make the switch is that they don’t have the ability to actually care for their servers. Whether it’s a concern about not having the proper staff to care for the machines or even just not having the physical space, colocation allows companies the unique opportunity to utilize data center services without actually building one themselves. CAPEX and OPEX costs such as these are severely reduced when implementing a colocation solution, allowing business administrators a little more breathing room in their budgets.

On top of receiving services like server cooling and power without directly having to pay for them on premises, companies that purchase a colocation plan are also likely guaranteed certain conditions under their service-level agreement. According to TechTarget’s Margaret Rouse, an SLA may include anything from uptime guarantees to performance benchmarks.

“Data is at the center of your business.”

Another amazing benefit of colocation is that the managed service providers within the data centers often also offer disaster recovery solutions. While this is certainly a great addition to a colocation package, it also means that a facility that provides disaster recovery is most likely safer than any other company you’ve ever dealt with. These professionals are experts at mitigating the risks of a disaster, which means your servers will be incredibly secure in their hands. Data is at the center of your business, and making sure that it’s safe should be your top priority.

ISG Technology can help you implement a solution

If you’re thinking of taking advantage of this amazing innovation, there’s been no better time than now. ISG Technology is a leading colocation expert, with years of experience satisfying the data storage needs of our clients. Even a single server can be relocated to an ISG Technology facility, making this service right for businesses of multiple sizes.

Although colocation has quite a lot of advantages, certain companies can benefit more than others by implementing such a solution. In the second part of this series, we’ll delve more deeply into which organizations can expect the most out this service.