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Defense contractor spreads DR between local site and the clouds

A contractor developing forensic technology for the U.S. government maintains disaster recovery between local replication site and using a virtual data center in the cloud.

Ideal Innovations Inc., a government contractor that develops forensic and biometric technologies for the U.S. Department of Defense, maintains disaster recovery plans for its internal files through a combination of its own replication to a nearby secondary site and a virtual data center in the cloud.

The Arlington, Va.-based contractor maintains separate disaster recovery for its contract projects with the government, but its own critical financial and human resources records were a trickier matter. It would not have been feasible to set up data replication and bare-metal restore for critical systems to protect 250 GB of data. But "even if you're a small company with a lean staff, you need disaster recovery," said IT director Joshua Mordin.

Ideal had already been through this process with its data backups, which it had outsourced to service provider DS3 DataVaulting. DS3 places Asigra's Televaulting data backup software on an appliance in the customer's shop. The Televaulting software deduplicates and encryptes changed data nightly before sending it over the wire to the DS3 data center.

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About a month ago, DS3 also offered Ideal the ability to maintain images of the contractor's servers, "essentially reproducing our environment at their data center," Mordin said. This would also have involved prohibitive colocation and hardware costs in the past, but DS3 keeps Ideal's secondary copies on virtual servers.

Those costs were prohibitive until recently for DS3 as well, according to co-founder Stacy Hayes, but storing users' system images on virtual machines made offering cloud-based disaster recovery possible for the Chantilly, Va.-based service provider. As an exclusive partner of Asigra, the company also found it could kill both birds with one stone with Televaulting, which does agentless bare-metal restore or converts physical servers to virtual images that can be sent over the wire like any other file.

Mordin's servers are being converted to files and will remain inactive at DS3 until Ideal needs them. While some companies deploy VMware-based secondary data centers for operational recoveries or to share the load of production computing, Ideal maintains its own replication to a secondary office in Springfield, Va., using Windows' distributed file system (DFS) for those purposes.

"Some of the same people sometimes work in both offices," Mordin explained. "They need access to their information," and DFS helps keep a distributed pool of files among multiple locations. Restores over the wire could also take too long for an "oops, I deleted a file" recovery, he said.

"We're still developing our disaster recovery plan," he added. The company has another site in Austin, Texas, that is backed up using DS3, but no disaster recovery is in place yet. "We're focused on our core business so far, and most of what we do in Austin is test and development work," Mordin said.

Still, the cloud has become trendy over the last year, so much so that DS3 itself is considering cloud-based storage for its internal operations. "Amazon's Simple Storage Service (S3) could offer us attractive cost savings and greater economies of scale," Hayes said. "It could help us cut costs out of our delivery model." DS3 currently maintains about 600 TB of storage on its floor. Cost is still the top objection to outsourcing that DS3 hears, he said.

DS3's possible move to the cloud doesn't bother Mordin, at least in theory. "They have met my requirements so far in terms of technical abilities, and I don't care what kind of virtualization they use for example," he said. "The only thing that concerns me is how our data would remain secure within that cloud -- that's our top priority."

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