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High availability provides disaster recovery for day-to-day emergencies

Dave Raffo, Senior News Director

Businesses at risk from natural disasters find a good disaster recovery plan gives them peace of mind but high availability

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with features such as data deduplication and data replication plays a more important role in their day-to-day operations.

Platinum Energy protects critical servers with QuorumLabs

Like any Southern California business, Agoura Hills-based wholesale fuel supplier Platinum Energy is at risk from natural disasters, but it also needs high availability to recover from server outages that could cost it thousands of dollars in the blink of an eye. Plantinum's director of technology Gregg Blank said the need for high availability became more pronounced after the firm grew from supplying 16 service stations to supplying 120 stations in California, Washington and Oregon in about a year.

"Fuel pricing is pretty volatile; it's critical to make sure we get updates on pricing over our complete network -- the 120 dealers we supply to," Blank said. "Fuel prices can change while fuel is on the truck -- we want to make sure they have the latest information. When the company had 16 service stations, if something happened to the internal network, it was easy to get everybody on the phone. At the scale we're out now, we realize how mission critical it is that our systems stay up and running. Downtime can mean tens of thousands of dollars."

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Blank said a system crash early this year came during a period when there were no pricing changes, but it got him and the Platinum executives thinking how critical it was to have a high-availability system.

"We realized how exposed we were, and we realized we needed to do something quickly," he said. "I talked to the CEO and owner of the company, and we knew we needed to fill this hole. We wanted something that is competitive in price, because we don't want a solution that costs more than our infrastructure itself."

Blank said a friend recommended startup QuorumLabs Inc. to him, and its onQ appliances met his needs by providing high availability across two servers without breaking the bank. "We run our entire infrastructure on two servers," he said. "We wanted something that could take over in a short period if any server went down without having any hardware onsite sitting in a box waiting."

QuorumLabs' onQ appliances take full and incremental data backups, create virtual clones of systems they protect and do what QuorumLabs calls "file-chunk" deduplication -- they only sends parts of files that don't already exist on any protected server. Pricing for two onQ 2.0 appliances starts at $8,000 for an annual subscription and $12,000 for a perpetual license.

Blank said with Quorum, "If we lost one or both servers, this solution can take over for those. Granted it's slower than the regular servers but we'd still be up and running. That met our needs for a high availability solution, and also met our needs for backups. We run [Microsoft] SQL with a lot of transactions throughout the business day. We wanted reliable backups, not just for SQL but for a lot of our field servers. Before, we were doing backups on tape."

Platinum also uses TZO-HA's DNS Failover service for its Domain Name System server, but Blank said he decided to use onQ to extend his disaster recovery capability for natural -- or unnatural -- disasters. "In Southern California we have earthquakes, fires, floods, locusts, whatever, and we wanted to make sure we were covered if something happened," he said. "They're putting in a new water main in the building next to us. They could easily cut our T1 line. Then, what are we going to do?"

Platinum put in a second onQ box at one of a sister company's site in San Ramon in northern California. "We're connected via VPN," Blank said. "The high availability box sends snapshots to the DR box, and the DR box is always up to date within a half hour."

 Double-Take's Availability reduces drama in the Bahamas

Arch Reinsurance Ltd. in the Bahamas turned to Double-Take Software's FailSafe professional services to set up a disaster recovery plan in case of hurricane, but Arch IT manager Sheridan Smith said Double-Take Availability replication software for high availability gets more use.

Arch has two data centers in Bermuda to serve five sites on the island, plus a colocation site in Bermuda and European offices in Dublin, Zurich and Copenhagen. Arch's critical servers run Microsoft Exchange, SQL and Great Plains accounting software. Smith said he replicates data on those servers between data centers as well as to the collocation site for high availability.

"If any of my critical servers goes down, I can go to one of two locations in-house or to the DR site," he said.

He expects to be able to operate out of the Bermuda colocation site in all but the most extreme conditions. That site has its own power generator and a backup phone system. "Most of the damage from a hurricane is loss of power," Smith said. "We can function from the colocation site if our other buildings are not available."

Still, Smith said he plans to soon begin replicating to Dublin, where he can shift IT operations in case a hurricane knocks out all power in Bermuda.

Smith said Arch's recovery time objective (RTO) is 24 hours during December, January and July -- heavy underwriting renewal months. "We stand to lose millions if we go down during those critical times of the year," he said. The RTO is three days for most of the rest of the year.

Double-Take's FailSafe program includes two onsite visits each year from one of the vendor's system engineers to "make sure everything's running fine and do a failover test," Smith said.

Smith has had more use for high availability than disaster recovery so far, though. "I've been here five years, and we haven't had one major hurricane," he said. "We had one before I started here, and power was out three or four days. But I haven't needed to failover to the DR site since I've been here.

"But I had a server crash just the other day. The motherboard went out in one of my servers. So high availability came in handy.

Arch, which uses a Dell EqualLogic SAN, is planning to bolster its DR capabilities with ExaGrid Systems EX data deduplication appliances to replicate between Bermuda and Dublin. "We can replicate critical data from Bermuda to Europe on a regular basis," he said. "Deduplication saves a lot of bandwidth, which is very expensive in Bermuda."

 


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