Continuing in the face of disaster: Assessing disaster recovery in the cloud age
With 73% of businesses having had some type of operations interruption in the last five years, business continuity is becoming a concern for many organisations, especially the SMEs. Business continuity incorporates pre-emptive measures such as cyber-defences to minimise risk, proactive tactics such as system backups in case a problem arises and plans for a reactive strategy, which should include disaster recovery (DR), ready in case the worst happens.
But in the wake of disaster, how do businesses continue with everyday operations?
Traditional on-premise backup systems use removable media in the form of tapes or disk drives to store backup data. But this often means designated employees are required to manage and shuffle the backup media every day and preferably, take a copy offsite for safekeeping. The relatively high level of manual intervention can lead to errors being made, resulting in failed or incomplete backups. The removable media is typically a consumable and needs to be replaced at regular intervals, which can be costly, especially for larger capacity backups and media.
Beyond simple backups, conventional disaster recovery is a much more complex and costly proposition and typically requires a duplicate set of all the critical systems installed at a remote location, ready to step in if disaster strikes at the primary location. Many businesses have other concerns when it comes to backups and DR so it’s easy to see why organisations would question spending often serious budget on ‘what if’ technology that may never be needed. But what if disaster does strike?
Cloud technology has drastically reduced storage costs and has made backing up entire systems much more cost-effective and straightforward. All of the leading cloud providers – Microsoft, Amazon and Google - now offer backup as a core service of their cloud offerings, and clients can generally select whichever backup schedule and retention policy they wish to utilise.
Cloud computing also addresses the DR requirement. Major cloud service providers employ large-scale resilience and redundancy to ensure their systems remain operational. In the unlikely event an entire data centre goes down, client systems could operate from a second data centre. Most providers will also be able to backup on-premise systems and store that data in their cloud-based storage with the same freedom to define schedule and retention. However, the very best systems can also provide a full DR service for on-premise systems by replicating on-premise data in almost real-time into the cloud. Then, if disaster strikes, the systems can automatically allocate computing resource e.g. CPUs, RAM etc. and “spin-up” virtual servers to seamlessly take over until normal service is resumed on-site. Once the disaster has passed, the cloud systems will “fail-back” to the on-premise systems and synchronise all data that was changed during the disaster window. This means that when it comes to defining a DR strategy, businesses now have far more options available, with genuine DR systems now a cost-effective possibility for SMEs.
SMEs in particular are starting to discover the advantages of utilising cloud-based DR strategies. For businesses that may not have significant budget set aside specifically for IT resource, cloud-based solutions hold the key to successful adoption. Operating on usage-based costings, this type of system is ideal for cloud DR as the secondary or replicated IT infrastructure lays in wait until it’s required and businesses need only pay for it when, or if, they need it. Without the need for physical storage in data centres, smaller businesses are able to deploy their own disaster recovery strategy, making it no longer just for the larger enterprises.
So, what now?
Although business continuity should be a priority for businesses, in traditionally ‘offline’ industries, organisations often see IT decisions as tactical rather than strategic. Businesses will cease to function at full capacity if a disaster strikes and the necessary business continuity procedures are not in place; and as a direct result will experience a significant increase in down time and expenditure.
If it isn’t already, business continuity must become a priority for organisations. It’s now easier than ever to migrate to the cloud and take advantage of the inbuilt backup and disaster recovery options available. With the rate of cyber attacks on businesses of all sizes increasing significantly, no company is immune from the threat of hacking, human error or natural disasters and there is no longer an excuse to not have these systems and procedures in place.
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