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What to look for in DR orchestration

Disaster recovery orchestration is a must-have in the modern data center. However, that doesn't mean choosing the right tools for your organization is an easy process.

Because of the looming threat of ransomware and other forms of cyberattack, organizations of all sizes are taking a much closer look at their disaster recovery strategy in 2020. Of course, cyber disasters aren't the only threat facing data centers. Classic disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes and fires continue to be a threat. At the same time, expectations for a speedy recovery with minimal data loss, no matter the nature of the disaster, are at an all-time high.

The challenge is that IT doesn't have an unlimited budget to spend creating the perfect disaster recovery plan. IT also doesn't have unlimited access to personnel to design, implement and execute the DR plan. Vendors in the primary storage, backup storage and backup software markets are all delivering DR orchestration tools to help with plan execution.

Before settling on a vendor or product for orchestrated DR, there are a few considerations an organization should take into account. Your existing storage infrastructure and backup software will affect the type of orchestration tool you go with.

Primary storage challenges

When deciding how to use DR orchestration, the first decision to make is which disaster recovery automation tool the organization should use. Most primary storage products have asynchronous replication for DR built in, but the failover process requires a lot of human intervention.

The problem with human intervention during a disaster is the "human" may not be there, or it takes too long to go through all the manual steps to recover a volume. Manually going though these steps also leaves open the possibility of a mistake. Disaster recovery orchestration eliminates the concern over available personnel and the potential for mistakes in the data center. Unfortunately, few primary storage vendors offer DR orchestration.

Automation is so critical that if the customer is not happy with the backup or if it lacks automation, then it is a justifiable reason to look for an alternative.

The way primary storage is architected in the modern data center is also a challenge. Most data centers have seven or more independent storage systems, each serving different use cases or platforms. In most cases, the organization may find that only one of their production storage systems supports orchestration -- not all seven, which means they have to manage DR on those remaining systems manually. Even if all the storage systems in the data center had orchestration, they, more than likely, would all be different, forcing IT to manage seven different DR orchestration processes. Until the organization can find a single storage option that can address most use cases and provide orchestration, IT needs to look elsewhere.

Secondary storage and backup software

In most cases, "elsewhere" is going to mean using secondary storage or backup software. These options can provide a central point of DR automation. Backup software provides the most flexibility by protecting the widest variety of environments and supporting a wide range of storage targets. The hardware options offer more of a turnkey experience and can be more straightforward to implement but may sacrifice flexibility.

Deciding between these two will first depend on if the current backup software supports automation. If it does and the customer is happy with the backup product as a whole, then it is likely the most practical option. Automation is so critical that if the customer is not happy with the backup or if it lacks automation, then it is a justifiable reason to look for an alternative.

The next decision point is where the automation product will allow recovery. In many cases, it can only automate DR into the cloud. Often the vendor preselects the cloud target. The advantage of a preselected cloud is, again, a simpler startup and execution process. The disadvantage is lack of flexibility in cloud choice.

If the organization's current primary storage vendor or a potential new vendor delivers DR automation, and that covers most of their environment, then they should consider it. DR orchestration should be a vital component to look for during a storage refresh. The advantage of orchestrating with primary storage is that an organization can cut their recovery point objective (RPO) to less than five minutes.

If the organization's data center is like most data centers, it likely has a diverse storage infrastructure with no plan to consolidate primary storage. If this is the case, then IT needs to consider using its backup software or backup storage. Many of the converged data protection products provide some form of DR orchestration, and an increasing number of traditional backup software vendors have an orchestration module. Both backup storage and software-only tools can orchestrate primary storage system snapshots, but they don't typically offer a sub-30-minute RPO.

Choosing the DR location also depends on what is available to the organization. If the organization has a second, data center-class location, then they may choose to avoid the public cloud for recovery. If they don't have a secondary data center-class location, then the public cloud offers many advantages like lower costs and easier recovery.

Selecting the right DR orchestration tool is challenging, but orchestration will benefit just about every organization. The obvious choice is a single storage product that can cover all the organization's storage use cases, but for many organizations, that idea isn't practical. Lacking storage consolidation, the IT professional needs to look at either backup hardware or software options. In most cases, the flexibility requirements are critical, so software, despite its potentially more challenging implementation, enables a more complete DR strategy that is also futureproof.

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