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SunGard cloud service brings disaster recovery relief

SunGard's pool of virtual servers for failover solves long-standing disaster recovery headaches for one company.

SunGard's Virtual Server Replication service that became generally available this week is earning the praises of one early adopter who said it solved major issues with matching up primary and secondary server hardware for failover.

SunGard uses VMware's Site Recovery Manager at its hosted data centers to manage the failover and failback of customers' hosts to pools of virtual servers. Sungard's hosted disaster recovery infrastructure is aimed at organizations that can't afford an entire second set of storage gear and secondary data center space.

According to Mark Zwartz, manager of IT for the privately held JMB companies, the real savings for his staff will be in time and stress. "What we've done over the last three weeks [setting up the Virtual Server Replication] took us two years to do with physical servers," he said. In the past, having to match hardware at a secondary site hosted by SunGard to production hosts in his data center 40 miles away had caused recoveries to fail and time to be wasted taking road trips to replace failed drives.

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Zwartz manages IT for three JMB subsidiaries: JMB Insurance, JMB/Manhattan Investors and JMB Realty. Each company has a standard set of five physical Windows servers: Exchange, SharePoint, SQL, a file server and a Blackberry Enterprise Server. According to Zwartz, failovers to physical machines rarely happened as planned. "Some of the Exchange stores wouldn't mount, and SharePoint just wouldn't work," he said. "It took us about a year and a half to have a successful SharePoint failover test."

Zwartz called it "the highlight of our testing" for the new SunGard service when SharePoint failed over and failed back again "just beautifully."

Although JMB hasn't calculated how much money it will save by not having to finance and support secondary hardware at SunGard's data center, SunGard estimates switching from physical to virtual replication targets will save its customers $2,000 to $5,000 per month in hardware maintenance and floor space rental costs. Customers still must pay for firewalls and bandwidth into and out of the data center.

Zwartz is replicating to the SunGard facility using the same tool he used before: Double-Take Software's host-based replication software. VMware has not yet announced partnerships with host-based replication players, but Double-Take already has the ability to replicate data from physical to virtual servers and back again. The JMB companies are already highly outsourced, with accounting and business practice management applications managed by various SaaS providers and was already a customer of SunGard for disaster recovery hosting before signing up for the Virtual Server Replication service.

There have been no issues with the virtual failover itself, though the OEM licenses of the Windows operating systems, which Zwartz bought a few years ago, makes failover to a virtual machine tricky at times. As opposed to open licenses, which are installed by the end user, OEM-licensed Windows operating systems are embedded in servers at the factory by the server manufacturer -- in this case, Dell.

"The licenses are embedded with so many different serial numbers, like the processor, the network card and the hard drive on the server -- I guess in case you're going to lend your Exchange license to a friend," Zwartz said. "We've found workarounds, but it's always been very difficult."

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