Cloud-based disaster recovery: Why, and—most importantly—how?

April 23, 20184 Minute Read

Back in the bad ol’ days, disaster recovery was cumbersome, complex, and expensive. Cloud computing has changed the game, offering tons of clear benefits over the old models. What are the upsides to cloud-based disaster recovery, and what should you consider when doing it?

Historically, smaller companies that even bothered with backups would often back up their data to tape. Best case scenario, they’d ship it to an external site to protect it from physical disaster at the head office. Their larger counterparts might back up across a dedicated line to another data centre that they owned. But it wasn’t easy to test backup procedures, leaving IT teams crossing their fingers when disaster struck.

Disaster recovery and the cloud revolution

Cloud computing has revolutionized the disaster recovery business. In November 2016, analyst firm 451 Research published a survey of 413 decision makers in the US and the UK. The report, Cloud-Based Disaster Recovery in 2016 and Beyond, found that 64 percent of organizations have already implemented a cloud-based disaster recovery solution. That’s up from 46 percent in Q4 2014—no doubt because cost reduction is one of the most obvious benefits of cloud-based DR for some users. If you’re currently backing up to a tape-based system that’s reaching the end of its life, save your company a large investment and move to the cloud.

Cost isn’t the primary driver of cloud-based DR, though. Reliability features highly in the list of benefits. Testing is an important part of any DR strategy, because the last thing any company wants is to find that its data recovery system doesn’t work when needed. It’s way easier to test the integrity of cloud-based backups than tape-based ones. For many companies, especially smaller ones, the other benefit may simply be getting the data offsite in the first place. More companies than you may think lack the resources to back up to a separate data centre—instead, they store their tape or hard-drive backups in the same location as their primary data. The scary part? That leaves them vulnerable to physical disasters. Storing data in a cloud-based service would completely eliminate that vulnerability.

The flavour of the cloud-based DR service that you want will depend on your risk tolerance. Some companies may be happy to simply store their data in the cloud. If their local data gets corrupted, they’ll restore local computers from the cloud when they’re ready. For these companies, a simple backup to a cloud-based storage service will suffice. Luckily, many companies will even handle this for you as part of their managed backup service.

Kicking it up a notch

For other companies, a more substantial cloud-based disaster recovery option may be the best bet. In that case, cloud-based fail-over might be more appropriate, where a company can store not only its application data in the cloud, but its applications, too. If something disrupts service in the office, quick-thinking IT teams can seamlessly shift the work of on-site computers to the cloud. For your cloud-based fail-over needs, your business can use a hybrid cloud computing environment to merge a public cloud service with private cloud infrastructure already running on your own premises.

The private cloud infrastructure uses the same technology to virtualize its operating systems and applications as the cloud-side service. It creates copies of operating systems and applications that run next to each other as software packages on a physical server. IT teams can easily copy these virtual machines, making it possible for disaster recovery software to replicate them in the cloud. A disaster recovery solution will typically take “snapshots” of the virtual machines—saving their state at a point in time—that it’ll update at regular intervals in the cloud. Your IT team can move fast to pick up operations quickly should the local virtual machines suffer an outage. Companies can set their own recovery point objectives (RPOs), which dictate how up-to-date the backed-up copy of the data and application state is.

Disaster recovery is one of the most popular reasons why companies use hybrid cloud infrastructures. If your company is smart, it’ll combine this with cloud bursting, enabling it to use some much-needed extra computing capacity in the public cloud during times of peak demand on their on-site computers.

One advantage of a cloud-based disaster recovery solution that can take over your applications is that it can support a distributed workforce. If a natural disaster, like a fire or flood, takes your office down, your employees might want to work from home to avoid the office. If applications are running in the cloud, they can be accessed from anywhere, keeping your business running when physical disaster strikes.

When you’re planning your next disaster recovery move, consider cloud services. This aspect of business IT is often overlooked until it’s too late—so make sure you start making moves now. When an unexpected event disrupts your computing capabilities, you’ll be glad you came prepared.

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