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Dell Services elevates Alabama city's DR plan with the cloud

After a massive tornado touched down across the state, the city of Opelika, Ala., looked to the cloud to get its IT infrastructure up and running in case of disaster.

The city of Opelika, Ala., had its eyes on a cost-efficient and reliable disaster recovery plan following a destructive tornado touching down in the state. A third-party cloud from Dell Services and partner ZeroLag Communications Inc. fit the bill.

In 2011, a 1.5-mile-wide tornado tore through Tuscaloosa, Ala., causing $2.4 billion in damage and making it clear to neighboring cities that disaster could strike at any moment. Across the state, about 160 miles away in Opelika, concerns about the city's own readiness for such an event began to arise.

"It did a massive amount of damage," said Stephen Dawe, CTO for the city of Opelika. Having emergency services like 911, police and fire departments up and running as soon as possible is a priority for the city, Dawe said. And for Tuscaloosa, that almost didn't happen. "If their data center had been literally half a mile south of where it is, they wouldn't have an IT infrastructure."

Seeing how close a call it had been for Tuscaloosa, Dawe took a closer look at Opelika's disaster recovery plan.

"Once that happened, it caused us to review what we had, and what we had was not good enough," Dawe said. While the city had a Dell AppAssure backup module, it was located just a mile away from the data center, most likely not far enough if the data center was hit with an equivalent disaster.

To better prepare for a possible disaster, the city had two options: Build a duplicate data center in another region, or look to the cloud. Cost played a big role in this decision.

"When you look at building an equivalent data center for a city the size of Opelika, you're looking at somewhere in the region of half a million dollars' worth of hardware," Dawe said. For a population of approximately 30,000 people, costs for a duplicate data center would run high, while odds of a large-scale disaster even hitting Opelika are relatively low. "Having another half a million dollars' worth of hardware sitting somewhere else that may or may not be used is just not financially feasible."

To the cloud, it was

Working with Dell Services and hosting company ZeroLag, the city of Opelika decided on disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS) through Dell Cloud on Demand. While Dawe said they went into the search vendor-agnostic, the city’s use of Dell AppAssure allowed the vendor to leverage technology already installed to lower costs on the DRaaS plan.

Having another half a million dollars' worth of hardware sitting somewhere else that may or may not be used is just not financially feasible.
Stephen DaweCTO, city of Opelika

Based in Los Angeles, ZeroLag met a major requirement laid out in Opelika's request for proposal: getting the data out of the region. After working on developing a customized DR plan with the city’s IT staff, ZeroLag configured a private virtual network for the city made up of 25 virtual machines (VMs). The VMs, which would get the city's vital accounting, payroll, permitting and mapping software infrastructure up and running in case of a disaster, are backed up to disks using Dell Rapid Recovery, and then to the cloud.

Tina DeBrass, director of cloud services at Dell, said having DRaaS saves an organization from purchasing equipment it may never have to use.

"We're seeing a lot of this, where customers are looking to pay for only what they use," she said of Opelika's move to a cloud DR strategy.

Dawe tests the DR process once a year. That provides the city with an opportunity to identify any problems and make changes required by systems upgrades. Since implementation of the Dell Services cloud plan two years ago, the city of Opelika has not had to fail over to its backup. "We put in a four-hour SLA [service-level agreement], and when we tested ZeroLag, it's about eight minutes to get everything back and running online," Dawe said.

"Other than testing, we've never had to actually use it, and I would like to keep it that way."

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