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Best practices in disaster recovery focus on DRaaS in 2015

The top disaster recovery best practices of 2015 include asking the right questions of DRaaS providers, and instituting proper DR planning and testing.

Disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS) expanded in 2015, both in the number of providers and the services they...

offer. Our top DR tips for 2015 reflect that growth, as there are many elements to take into consideration.

When it comes to an organization's best practices for disaster recovery, our experts emphasize planning and testing. Businesses should not discount these components -- we'll tell you why and give tips on what you can do to protect your organization.

Vetting DRaaS providers

DRaaS is an exciting option for disaster recovery, but according to George Crump, president and founder of Storage Switzerland LLC, providers need to be vetted properly to ensure that they can deliver purchased services and meet customer expectations. When selecting a DRaaS provider, it's important to ask the right questions of your organization and the potential providers.

One of the top cloud best practices for disaster recovery is to understand the services that DRaaS providers offer. These services include simple data recovery for administrators, virtual machine mounting and full disaster recovery. The key, Crump noted, is to pick a provider that can ensure your organization will continue to run following a disaster.

One of the top cloud disaster recovery best practices is to understand the services that DRaaS providers offer.

An organization needs to assess what it needs for disaster recovery. What is the recovery time objective and the recovery point objective? What types of disasters are possible? What is the budget?

Finally, especially with many DRaaS providers so new to the market, organizations need to ask them the right questions. For example, what are the rules for declaring a disaster? How will users access internal applications? What are the procedures for failback? What are the DRaaS provider's testing processes? What are the costs associated with the various DRaaS options?

DRaaS can be a cost-effective offering for disaster recovery, but it's important to first know as much as you can about your organization's needs and a provider's services before deciding if it's right for you.

Consider DRaaS to lower your DR costs

DRaaS saves organizations the expense of building a separate DR site, and equipping that site with servers, storage and personnel, Crump said.

DRaaS could be a good fit for small and medium-sized businesses without a secondary location. Just be careful, because DRaaS costs can add up. The biggest cost, according to Crump, is the price of storage. The longer data is stored in the cloud, the more expensive it becomes. Try using the cloud to store only the latest copy of data, the version most typically needed in a disaster.

For organizations where storing years' worth of backup in the cloud may not be practical, they can set up their own DR service using a large public cloud. For example, instead of directing all backups to the cloud and paying to store it, enterprises can replicate the data from their most mission-critical data sets to a cloud provider, such as Amazon, Google or Microsoft.

The importance of cloud DR testing

Testing is an oft-overlooked element of a disaster recovery plan, especially when DR is handled off-site in the cloud. While cloud DR has made a lot of things simpler and easier, organizations still need to be sure to own their own business continuity and disaster recovery plans. Testing is a key piece of the plan and an essential one of our best practices in disaster recovery.

According to Jason Buffington, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group Inc., in Milford, Mass., make sure your cloud DR service provider supports the idea that you'll annually test your plan and routinely test specific parts of the plan. If you're efficient with your IT deployment models, then you can probably do it yourself at a secondary site or one of your existing sites.

Andrew Reichman, research director at New York-based 451 Research, said it depends how aggressive you want to be with your DR testing, but he supports pulling the plug on a server and seeing if it fails over. Simulate the disaster and see how long it takes to get the application running in the cloud.

Reichman also suggested taking more of a high-availability (HA) approach, where you build an HA application in the cloud, and have the primary and the secondary copies living there. Most clouds are designed with a scale-out methodology, he said, so if any server or component fails, it picks up where it left off on a different machine.

Improve your DR project management

Planning is also important in business continuity or disaster recovery project management. A project plan can be a single page or hundreds of pages, depending on the activity, according to Paul Kirvan, independent IT consultant and auditor.

On a given project, identify the stakeholders and establish the goals. Form a list of project deliverables. And set the project schedule, which identifies key dates, milestones and resources.

For complex projects, Kirvan suggested using a project management software tool to help manage the many resources and elements.

Distance matters

Crump noted that one typically weaker element of DR planning involves distance, but it's one of the key best practices in disaster recovery. A DR site that's close to the primary data center may seem like the best plan, at least as far as cost and testing goes, but often, that's not the case.

There are problems with having your DR site within the same region as your primary data center. A disaster, such as a hurricane, can harm both sites. And employees may not be able to access the DR site. As a result, Crump suggested having your DR site at least two geographic regions away on the Federal Emergency Management Agency map.

The good news, Crump said, is that most storage systems today have native replication and some level of application access. If you have a second facility that is far enough away, you could replicate to a second, similar storage system there.

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