A proper cloud-based disaster recovery plan could bring blue skies

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This article is part of our Essential Guide: A DRaaS market guide: Advice on the thriving technology

When picking a DRaaS provider, preparation makes perfect

With many options in the DRaaS market now, the proper analysis of your business and potential vendors is crucial. This step-by-step guide will help you narrow the field.

Disaster recovery as a service, or DRaaS, is one of the fastest growing technologies offered in the profession today, as noted by Gartner in its research report on the service. This article will help you prepare to select the DRaaS provider that is right for your organization.

DRaaS builds on a foundation that includes the internet, cloud-based data storage and production resources, and advanced software that streamlines the failover process from production to an alternate site. This can apply to production systems, virtual machines (VMs) and physical servers. Today, when DRaaS is properly configured, it is possible to literally push one or two "buttons" and critical IT assets will be rapidly failed over to alternate cloud-based facilities. Resumption of access to production systems and VMs is possible within minutes or a few hours for very large and complex systems.

A very large organization may not use a DRaaS provider for its primary recovery function, as the firm may already have arrangements for a hot site and multiple data centers to support recovery. However, small- to medium-sized firms today may find that DRaaS is a cost-effective strategy for ensuring their mission-critical systems, databases and operating applications are protected and can be quickly recovered and restored.

Top DRaaS vendors and features

In Gartner's report on DRaaS, its Magic Quadrant listed 20 vendors among the leaders in this market. Let's assume that all have one or more of the following attributes:

  1. Cloud-based storage and operational recovery components.
  2. Software that dynamically fails over the primary systems/devices to backup counterparts in a cloud environment.
  3. Real-time replication of VMs, applications, data, databases, servers and other IT assets to a cloud environment.
  4. Dashboard (or similar) management components.
  5. System access and management locally, as well as remotely via wireless applications.
  6. Reporting tools that provide statistics and other performance data.
  7. Support tools for writing DR plans and other documents.

An examination of the following vendors -- all listed in Gartner's Magic Quadrant -- showed that most of the above criteria can be found, in one form or another, within the various service offerings.

  • Acronis
  • Axcient
  • Bluelock
  • IBM
  • iland
  • Infrascale
  • Sungard Availability Services (AS)

Prep work guidelines for the DRaaS market

Therefore, assuming we have a more or less level playing field, from a service capability perspective, what criteria can you use to evaluate and select a DRaaS provider?

First, determine if you have a real need for DRaaS. If you already have some sort of recovery process in place, examine the costs to provide recovery as a starting point. If you have developed a technology disaster recovery and/or business continuity plan, you may have already performed a business impact analysis (BIA) to identify the mission-critical business processes and systems you need to remain in business following a disruptive event. If, on the other hand, you have no DR or business continuity activities in place, it may be useful to ask a DRaaS provider to assist you in the creation of a disaster recovery process.

Next, research available DRaaS vendors and compile a list of candidates. Well-established vendors, like IBM and Sungard AS, will likely have a broad range of DRaaS products, and the cost may be commensurate with that capability. That's why it makes sense to examine a few of the relatively new specialty DRaaS vendors, whose offerings match those of the major players, but who may have lower prices, as DRaaS is the only or primary service they offer. The list above contains a few representatives of both types of vendors.

It may be useful to ask a DRaaS provider to assist you in the creation of a disaster recovery process.

Determine what specifically you wish to recover; for example, data files, databases, virtual machines, servers or applications. These are typically identified using the results of the BIA.

Also, determine the timeframes for recovery of the mission-critical assets you've identified and prioritized. These metrics will also be available from BIA results.

Determine any security requirements that may necessitate encryption of systems and data while in transit to the recovery site, and also if encryption at rest is needed at the recovery site itself.

Finally, identify any additional requirements you may have for failing over critical systems and applications to an alternate and, most likely, cloud-based site.

Nearing the finish line: The request for proposal

Prepare a request for proposal to obtain information about your selected vendors and their proposed offerings. The request should ask for the following information about the DRaaS provider:

  • Financial status
  • Systems installed
  • Available features with each service offering
  • Use of third-party sales partners and distributors
  • How the product is technically configured
  • Physical location of cloud resources
  • Backup and recovery procedures for the vendor
  • Equipment and protocols supported
  • Security protocols in place to protect customer assets
  • Training provided
  • Documentation provided
  • Level of customer interaction available with the service
  • Frequency of DR testing permitted without a fee
  • Maintenance procedures for vendor resources
  • Frequency of testing of vendor recovery resources
  • Vendor support for service-level agreements
  • Lists of customers who will provide references
  • Problems reported with systems
  • Service pricing and available pricing plans
  • Legal and contractual issues

Compare the results of each vendor response, contact references for their comments, examine the pricing options and determine how you wish to move forward. You could choose to run a pilot program or a full-scale program, or to use the service with only a few systems.

Once you have made a decision and executed a contract, use the systems development lifecycle model to plan the installation, programming, documentation, training, acceptance testing and entry into production. Be sure to schedule several tests during the year, especially if the DRaaS provider permits more than one test without an additional charge.

If you opt for additional services, such as developing documented disaster recovery plans, know that there may be an added cost, but it may be worthwhile if it means you'll have an element as important as a documented, ready-to-use DR plan.

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