Cloud disaster recovery offers speed, automation

Disaster recovery services in the cloud vary in approach, but they all offer full access to data within hours

Disaster recovery options in the cloud vary in approach, but they all accomplish something that was previously unheard of: full access to data within a few hours, or instantly, after a business loses power or server function.

These services are usually automated and offer data security. But even with all this innovation, surveys show that a majority of SMBs have insufficient rdata recovery plans or no plans at all.

For SMBs without a cloud backup service, data recovery plans involve the retrieval of tapes, locating a functional server, and uploading data from the tapes in order. Altogether, the process could take days. Most cloud services, on the other hand, offer guarantees of 24 hours or less.

Erik Williams, senior director of sales and marketing at rCloud, says his service is ready “almost instantaneously” after data loss. The product utilizes local backup software to send an image of the SMB’s system – including virtualization, appliances and data – to rCloud’s servers, where the image can be run as a virtual machine. Williams says 90 percent of the company’s customers are SMBs, who get their subscriptions through resellers and managed service providers.

Janson Hoambrecker

EVault’s Janson Hoambrecker says businesses may be disappointed with disaster recovery plans that just take data off-site.

Another vendor, EVault, prices its services in tiers that guarantee different recovery time objectives (RTO), the maximum amount of time from initiating data recovery procedures to service restoration. During Super Storm Sandy, the company was able to serve more than 20 different customers who were initiating data recovery plans at the same time, says Janson Hoambrecker, director of cloud disaster recovery at EVault.

These included Kleinfeld Bridal, a major provider of designer wedding dresses, which had more than 50 gowns to deliver the weekend of the storm. The number of businesses needing help didn’t stop EVault from helping Kleinfeld return to serving its customers well within the 24-hour-guarantee in its contract.

The EVault backup system also utilizes virtual machines and acts as an “extension” of an IT department in the event of disaster. Both rCloud and EVault services share automation characteristics with many of the cloud disaster recovery products on the market.

“Almost all of the work that anybody needs to do, they do when they initially set up the environment,” says Chris Schin, vice president of products at Zetta.net. “After that, it works on its own schedule.” Daily emails give customers the status of each protected system and informs them of warnings or problems. Zetta technicians proactively work through those problems, often before customers know they ever exist, says Schin.

Zetta offers a third approach to cloud backup for disaster recovery. The application creates a replica of the customer’s files and systems on Zetta’s storage arrays in its data centers, and can also be set up to make replicas on the customer’s local servers. To recover data after an incident, “you simply point to the replica and you pull back the data you need – it’s no ‘restore,’ it’s just accessing your up-to-date replica in our data center,” says Schin.

Most services describe restoring individual files as being as simple and quick as logging into a file-sharing site. Restoring more complicated systems depends on the speed of one’s Internet connection and the business’s recovery point objective (RPO), the maximum data loss allowed before service is restored.

The most oft-touted statistics about SMBs and disaster recovery come from a 2012 Symantec study that found only 46 percent of SMB respondents considered themselves to be “prepared” for a disaster. Only 26 percent of SMBs said they have a plan. The same survey found that SMBs utilizing “mobile, virtualization and cloud technologies are finding that these technologies have indeed increased their disaster preparedness.”

Schin says “almost without exception, the two questions we get asked first are around security and performance.” Specifically, he adds, customers want to know how the service helps them maintain financial information, control compliance, and how much time it will take to resume operations after a disaster.

Shane Bingham, business development coordinator with iBackup, says his company’s security strategy gives users an optional private key to encrypt their data before uploading it to iBackup’s servers. “When it’s stored on our servers, even we don’t have access to those files,” says Bingham.

rCloud’s Williams adds that his customers ask about cost and whether local support will be available any time of the day or night. These features differentiate cloud disaster recovery solutions from simple file-sharing services, which can host backup files but don’t make guarantees about availability, speed or security — whether that’s security during the transmission of files or security on the servers themselves.

“There are a lot of companies out there that just take their data off-site, and they call that disaster recovery,” but customers are often disappointed with what they actually get with their contract, says EVault’s Hoambrecker.

Another feature to make sure of when looking for a cloud backup and rdisaster recovery service is geographical: If a natural disaster takes out your business’s power, you wouldn’t want to find out then that the backup server was also in the disaster zone and, likewise, is without power.

Most cloud services also offer regular backup validity testing, to ensure that they’ll be functional in the event of a disaster. “I would never go more than a month without testing spot files on the account to make sure,” says Bingham.

Erin Richey
Erin Richey is a freelance data and investigative journalist reporting on digital security and construction from St. Louis. Follow her on Twitter at @erincrichey
Erin Richey
Erin Richey
Tags: Business Management,IT Security,Technology