Essential Guide

Essential guide to business continuity and disaster recovery plans

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Unshackling disaster recovery with WAN optimization products

Learn about WAN optimization products specifically aimed at improving DR, and what you need to have in place before you deploy WAN optimization.

What you will learn in this tip: It’s the age of the cloud, and that doesn’t necessarily mean mind-boggling new

architectures for every domain in the enterprise. What it does mean is that there are more over-the-wire services—from over the wire to the other side of the data center to over the wire to the other side of the world. And those technologies can have a lot of value in your IT portfolio. One of the biggest is WAN optimization, and it can have a huge impact on your data movement processes, the most intensive of which often is found in the disaster recovery (DR) infrastructure. In this tip, you will learn about WAN optimization products specifically aimed at improving DR, and what you need to have in place before you deploy WAN optimization.

Traditional DR has often revolved around tape just because DR has required so much data to be moved. But WAN optimization can mean the difference between DR over the wire being possible or not, and in the age of the cloud, there’s an over-the-wire data movement choice for nearly any system you can think of. This is proving a panacea to the more than 85% of organizations who have too much of their data unprotected in the face of a potential disaster.

In contrast to tape-based practices, DR over the wire is easier and requires less expense in manpower, transportation and physical media. Moving data over the wire also yields much better recovery points and recovery times than tape. Moreover, DR over the wire reduces the possibility of media errors or lost shipments that can often make tape the biggest question mark in a DR plan, and nearly impossible to test with enough rigor. For up-to-the-moment recovery, or avoiding the loss of a day or more of data, over the wire DR may be the only way to go.

Certainly, over-the-wire DR takes some serious technologies in the data center. Identifying and moving the right data and executing application failovers are not simple tasks and require either significant manual support or good integration of tools like VMware’s vCenter Site Recovery Manager or agent-based technologies such as Vision Solution’s Double-Take software. But the technology that may make or break over-the-wire DR may well be WAN optimization.

Why is this? When Taneja Group examined WAN optimization vendor’s claims in what they can do with transmitted traffic, the cutting-edge vendors lay claim to serious transmitted data reduction (often as much as 95%) and lowered latency from the way they reduce traffic chattiness over the wire. Those two factors can create a magnitude of differences in how up to date your data is, and how quickly you can be ready to spin up the environment in the event of a disaster. Moreover, WAN optimization products can open the doors on where and how you do DR, and can make it practical to provision a DR location nearly anywhere—from your own facility where you don’t want to pay for a high-speed private line, to the numerous service providers that are coming to market with cloud disaster recovery off erings.

What to look for in a WAN optimization product

With an eye toward drastically reducing DR data transmission, and achieving these speed and ease-of-use benefits of DR over the wire, here's a short list of what you should look for in a  WAN optimization product:

•             Designed for DR data: Ask your vendor about their credentials for optimizing your DR data stream, with an eye on the toolsets that you are using to move your DR data. There may be a world of difference between moving file data, and moving the bits on the wire that make up EMC Corp.’s SRDF. Either examine, or take a guess at, what your data footprint will be over the wire, and the priority of that different traffic. Then evaluate how well a given vendor can optimize your mission-critical data alongside your less important data. Moreover, if your mission-critical data is something very specific, like EMC’s SRDF, then make sure your vendor has EMC’s blessing and is a supported solution.

•             Designed for your DR site: Make sure your vendor can be integrated into your DR site. If it is privately owned and operated, this may be easy, but many solutions built today are carrying data to a service provider or a hosted facility of some type, even if those facilities are from a provider like Iron Mountain or SunGard. Optimization at two ends of the wire will be many times better than optimization at only one end of the wire. 

•             Designed for the right workloads: Make sure your vendor of choice has a portfolio of products that can be applied to where your DR data movement needs are today, and where they might be tomorrow. With the idea of the cloud rapidly shifting how businesses are thinking about IT, your workloads might move, or be far different than you anticipate when tomorrow arrives. 

•             Designed to give you control: Finally, with a solution designed to work in the network, you should expect that WAN optimization products can provide control of that network. The age of the cloud will create rapidly changing utilization patterns that can cause interference with mission-critical workloads like DR. The right insight, along with sufficient control, can mean the difference between keeping your solution optimized under these rapidly changing demands, or running into issues that you can’t address with anything short of a forklift upgrade. WAN optimization devices are ideally placed to provide visibility into the network, and are ideally equipped to shape network use. 

With your eye on this short list, you can turn to examining the vendors on the market today, a few of which include Blue Coat Systems Inc., Certeon Inc., Cisco Systems Inc., Citrix Systems Inc., F5 Networks Inc., Riverbed Technology and Silver Peak Systems Inc.

Obviously, on top of these products, you must still have data replication, tools for coordinating what happens in the event of a disaster, and most important of all, processes and technologies for testing your plan and making sure your plan stays in lockstep with the perpetual changes occurring in any IT environment. But with WAN optimization in tow, you can finally put some of those technologies to work in pursuit of real business continuity.

About this author: Jeff Boles is a senior analyst and the director of Taneja Group's hands-on Technology Validation Services, focused on validating vendor solutions in real-world use cases. Prior to his several years with Taneja Group, Jeff's background includes more than 20 years of senior management and hands-on infrastructure engineering within the trenches of operational IT.

This was first published in August 2011

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Essential Guide

Essential guide to business continuity and disaster recovery plans

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