Essential tips for solid disaster recovery to Microsoft Azure

What is disaster recovery?

Modern businesses are now more vulnerable to IT disasters than ever before due to their heavy dependence on IT infrastructure. Whenever the data is lost, software doesn’t respond, or hardware and networking equipment fails, an organization loses a large amount of money. But there is a solution to minimizing the impact or even preventing this – disaster recovery.

Essential-tips-for-solid-Disaster-Recovery-to-Microsoft-Azure

Disaster recovery is a set of tools and policies that helps restore mission-critical data, applications and hardware to ensure business continuity in the wake of a sudden IT incident. 

Solid disaster recovery strategy should be based on a disaster recovery strategy with a plan being an integral part of it and having clearly defined RTO and RPO values. Before we move on, let’s elaborate on these terms.

Disaster recovery features to keep an eye on

A disaster recovery plan (DRP) is a documented and agreed upon sequence of steps that should be taken when an IT disaster occurs. 

A Recovery Time Objective (RTO) refers to the maximum amount of time that can pass after an incident takes place before a certain application or service is up and running again. For instance, if an organization uses a facial recognition app, and this application has a recovery time objective of ten minutes, it must start functioning again and be available online within ten minutes after an outage.

A Recovery Point Objective (RPO) is technically characterized by an amount of time as well, but in fact it refers to the amount of data an organization can afford to lose between backups. An RPO of 24 hours means that, in case of an IT disaster, a copy of the data that will be restored will be at most 24 hours old. In other words, a recovery point objective determines how frequently a system snapshot copy is created and backed up. 

To find out more about essential features of disaster recovery and the basics of coming up with a disaster recovery plan, please refer to the ‘How to prepare your business to an IT disaster’ article.

Disaster recovery to Microsoft Azure

Companies seek to recover from IT disasters as quickly as possible and with minimal losses, so it comes as no surprise that they prefer to opt for reliable services from a renowned provider. That’s why Azure Site Recovery, which is a disaster recovery-as-a-service by Microsoft, is a no-brainer choice for most businesses. As a result, ASR was first named an industry leader by Gartner back in 2016 and didn’t lose its leading position since then.

Microsoft Azure Site Recovery service overview

Azure Site Recovery is a good choice for organizations that have mission-critical workloads running primarily on VMware or Hyper-V. Microsoft’s DRaaS is closely integrated with Microsoft Endpoint Configuration Manager (formerly System Center Configuration Manager), a software product developed for managing large arrays of computers running Windows NT, Windows Embedded, macOS, Linux or UNIX, as well as various mobile operating systems, which makes ASR convenient for organizations that stick to the Microsoft stack.

Microsoft Azure Site Recovery pros and cons

Azure Site Recovery enables physical on-premises, Azure Virtual Machines, Hyper-V and VMWare virtual machines to failover in case of a disaster and to failback once it has been resolved. 

Initially, Microsoft’s disaster recovery solution was focused on storage, eventually expanding to disaster recovery-as-a-service; so now, it boasts near-constant data replication process, which makes it possible to keep copies synchronized.

ASR is also famous for its cost-efficiency — despite being packed with a set of backup, disaster recovery and reporting features, it will cost less than most of its industry competitors. In a way, Azure Site Recovery is a low-cost alternative to more conventional approaches where the only required expenses are for storage to support the application snapshots, the retention of recovery points and a monthly service fee.

ASR is capable of integration with such business continuity and disaster recovery solutions as Oracle Data Guard and SQL Always On. From the workload and application protection standpoint, Site Recovery easily integrates with numerous workloads, including DNS, Exchange, Active Directory, SAP, etc.

As we already said, a recovery point objective (RPO) and a recovery time objective (RTO) are critical properties of any disaster recovery solution, and this is what ASR is good at — for most virtual machines an RPO threshold doesn’t exceed 30 seconds, and for some of them replication is continuous. As for an RTO, an organization should use Azure Traffic Manager, a DNS-based traffic load balancer that distributes traffic across Azure regions, to reduce it drastically, thus facilitating an eventual recovery process.

On the other hand, there are some drawbacks that should be seriously taken into consideration before deciding on whether to prefer Azure Site Recovery over other disaster recovery solutions.

First and foremost, the Azure disaster recovery solution requires a high level of expertise, which makes it impossible to use it without an in-house or a freelance IT specialist for all but the simplest disaster recovery scenarios.

Another major disadvantage of Azure Site Recovery is the lack of automation — for instance, failover is a completely manual process, which could turn out to be costly without due regard and knowledge.

One more shortcoming that must not be overlooked is that ASR requires additional software to be fully operational and feature-packed. Thus, as already noted, to maintain a low RTO, Azure Traffic Manager should be used. Or, if an organization runs multi-VM configurations, System Center Virtual Machine Manager will be additionally required.

How to set up disaster recovery to Azure

Before moving on to disaster recovery setup, organizations must make sure that they have put together a sound disaster recovery strategy to implement. In most cases, it should deal with the following issues:

  • Budget
  • Resources
  • Technology being used
  • Data protection
  • Suppliers
  • Risks and insurance coverage
  • Compliance requirements

Once they have the strategy in hand, they can start realizing it. 

Microsoft suggests four main scenarios of disaster recovery to Azure:

  • Azure VM disaster recovery to Azure,
  • VMware VM disaster recovery to Azure,
  • Hyper-V VM disaster recovery to Azure,
  • Azure VMware Solution disaster recovery to Azure.

Depending on the chosen scenario, a different action plan will apply, but in most cases it will include these steps:

  1. Preparing Azure resources and components to set up disaster recovery of cloud-based VMs, on-premises VMs or physical servers to Azure.
  2. Preparing cloud-based VMs, on-premises VMs or physical servers for disaster recovery to Azure.
  3. Enabling replication for cloud-based VMs, on-premises VMs or physical servers.
  4. Running a disaster recovery drill with a test failover.
  5. Failing over cloud-based VMs, on-premises VMs or physical servers to Azure.
  6. Failing back from Azure VMs.
  7. Enabling replication to Azure.

To find out more about specific scenarios and appropriate action plans, please refer to the Microsoft Azure documentation section.

In summary

Let’s draw a bottom line here. As IT disasters are a threat to businesses that rely on IT infrastructure, disaster recovery becomes crucial in the modern world. To make sure that it’s really worth your while, just calculate how much your organization could lose in case of hours of downtime and compare that to the cost of adopting disaster recovery. MS Azure is a solution with rich functionality and customization flexibility available at a low cost, which makes it one of the best offerings for IT resilience.

However, to see the full picture, you should remember that it takes profound expertise to configure disaster recovery in Azure. There are others drawbacks, like the lack of automation or dependence on additional software, that should be thoroughly considered before making a final decision on which disaster recovery solution to choose.

Please, feel free to read my recent article ‘How to reduce your cloud bill yourself’ here.

If you want me to unveil any specific topic about clouds, migration or Disaster Recovery, please leave your comment or DM me, Nick Smirnov, CEO at Hystax

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