Disaster Recovery on Double Duty

Here's how virtualization and replication technologies protect data from disaster, while keeping business services humming.

At Ingram Micro, executive president and CIO Mario Leone doesn't think about how much he will spend on disaster recovery.

That's because the global electronics distributor weaves its disaster recovery requirements into its broader business objectives and its service-level agreements (SLA) with its 15,000 users. Since 2010, the IT shop has been cutting costs and meeting its service and disaster recovery commitments by using a "hybrid" cloud made up of its own virtualized hardware at colocation facilities in Chicago, Frankfurt and Singapore.

And rather than paying for dedicated recovery hardware that sits around waiting for a disaster, it uses virtualization to shift workloads from a failed server to one running a less critical workload. "We're always using that architecture for something," says Leone.

More and more IT shops are using technologies such as virtualization and replication to make disaster recovery just another service, sometimes using the same servers, network and storage that run order entry, email, application development or other services. This merges what historically were disaster recovery and business continuity efforts, protecting the business against not only rare disasters, but also human error or equipment failures.

Some store only data (and perhaps templates for virtual machines) off-site, creating (and paying for) the physical hardware to run them only when needed. "We can recover at our remote site much, much faster by just being able to fire up the system images of the VMs," says Justin Bell, systems administrator at Strand Associates, an engineering firm in Madison, Wis. Even if the server infrastructure at that site is less robust than the one at the primary site, "we could run in limited capacity, on much less hardware, until we got things back up at our primary site."

Other organizations have done away with dedicated disaster recovery systems. They shift production work to test or development servers during outages and defer work that's less critical.

More Demands, More Risk

These changes are driven by ongoing pressure to cut costs while maintaining continual uptime, and by the flexibility provided by server, storage and network virtualization. Meanwhile, a recent spate of natural disasters, along with stricter regulatory requirements, has made disaster recovery the No. 1 subject of client inquiries at research firm Gartner, says analyst John Morency.

However, Forrester Research reports that enterprise disaster recovery/business continuity budgets are stuck at 6% of total IT capital and operating budgets and that concerns such as "consolidation, business intelligence and virtualization" are given higher priority when it comes to spending.

Meanwhile, the list of critical services that need protection keeps growing, with communication tools such as voice over IP and email gaining "critical" status alongside traditional business applications like order entry and ERP. Finally, it's necessary to ensure uptime not only after major disasters, but also in the event of localized failures, and many companies need the ability to quickly recover just one file rather than an entire system.

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