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How to select the right cloud disaster recovery platform

Facing an IT disaster is just a matter of time. An overwhelming majority of small, medium-sized and large businesses experience at least one outage in the last twelve months, a survey states. The really good news is that (according to the same survey) almost all of them are prepared for a disaster, having a disaster recovery plan in hand. However, many opt for a traditional disaster recovery approach, or, in other words, an expensive and demanding secondary physical disaster recovery (DR) site, which is a far from flawless solution, to say the least.

Why? Building and maintaining a disaster recovery site is way too costly and complex for most companies, with large businesses and enterprises above all. It’s not worthwhile for them to squander a huge amount of money: first to buy equipment and build infrastructure and then to maintain it – just to use it in case of a disaster.

And then, when a disaster strikes, an organization needs to get back up and running quickly. However, alas, this cannot be done when a traditional disaster recovery approach is taken. Recovery from a backup, which involves restoring the data from a secondary DR site to the original location, tends to be one of the slowest recovery options. And that’s not all – there is a chance that this backup won’t be as up-to-date as one could wish.

Cloud disaster recovery: a giant leap forward

So, it came as no surprise that large businesses and enterprises became the first to adopt a new approach to disaster recovery – cloud disaster recovery. In contrast to the traditional DR approach, cloud disaster recovery, which is based on cloud technologies, is capable of restoring IT infrastructure lightning-fast with an automated failover to the cloud, thus preventing costly service outages. With a relatively low and predictable recovery point objective (RPO), clearly defined in a DR plan in advance, a risk of restoring from an outdated backup is no longer an issue. 

A sharp rise of cloud computing since the early 2010s has opened the door to cloud disaster recovery technologies for smaller organizations, and now it’s becoming a more feasible solution. Now, it doesn’t really matter where computing services are located physically, as long as the network provides enough bandwidth and reliability.

All in all, today, cloud disaster recovery has the following set of benefits versus traditional disaster recovery:

  • The pay-as-you-go method allows cost saving, especially for small businesses.
  • The solution provides incredible scalability: it is possible to upgrade or downgrade the used infrastructure at any time.
  • There’s no restriction in the choice of a provider – the distance between remote locations doesn’t matter in the overwhelming majority of cases.
  • Simplified recovery process and minimized recovery time via automation.

 

The most prominent cloud disaster recovery strategies

There is an immense number of ways to build a solid disaster recovery strategy, and the most notable cloud providers are: 

  • Amazon Web Services
  • Google Cloud Platform
  • Microsoft Azure (with the Azure Backup and Azure Site Recovery services) 
  • OpenStack disaster recovery

 
Choosing any of these providers totally makes sense, as they are large, trustworthy and give full direct control over their services. On the other hand, there are certain drawbacks to using this approach.

For instance, AWS assumes that you put together your own disaster recovery solution from scratch, based on its own basic cloud services. This leads to the conclusion that AWS is viable for those who are already familiar with the provider and have enough knowledge and skills to set up disaster recovery manually or semi-manually. Also AWS offers customers to use their third partly Disaster Recovery service (CloudEndure). 

Google Cloud Platform doesn’t provide any out-of-the-box DR service at all, let alone an all-round Disaster Recovery-as-a-Service solution. So, users are expected to create their own disaster recovery solution using standard Google Cloud services, which also have much less customization and optimization flexibility than Amazon. Just like Amazon, a challenging task to recreate an on-premises environment in the cloud persists.

OpenStack is another cloud service that just provides the capabilities for disaster recovery. As their manual says, “Determining and selecting what application and services to protect is the responsibility of the user, while handling the logistics of protecting is up to the cloud (and its operator).”

As for Azure, Microsoft actually does offer a sound disaster recovery solution, Azure Site Recovery (ASR), which we already covered in our article devoted to Microsoft’s DR service.   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, 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.

However, when it comes to advanced disaster recovery scenarios, ASR still requires a high level of expertise on the part of an IT department. It also lacks automation and requires additional software to be fully operational and feature-packed. There are also several requirements, such as a limit of 1TB for local disks, that should be met in order to be able to use ASR.

How to get the most out of cloud disaster recovery

All of the above leads us to the necessity to consider full-featured DRaaS providers, finding out what makes a good cloud disaster recovery platform. 

Here’s the list of features an outstanding DR software should include:

High cost-effectiveness

If you are migrating 2 VMs, it’s not a big deal but if you have a complex project, you need to build a team responsible for all the activities or hire an external team which provides professional services. I described cloud migration steps here and here.

Maximum automation at every stage of disaster recovery

Automation is important, whether it is a disaster recovery plan creation, data replication configuration, testing, or disaster recovery itself.

Instant recovery capability

Instant recovery capability, which enables companies to minimize downtime, helping return workloads back without data loss and in a short maintenance window.

The capability to keep RPO and RTO values in line with the disaster recovery plan requirements

RPO (Recovery Point Objective) determines a threshold “outdatedness” of a system snapshot copy that is acceptable for getting back to normal operation. RTO (Recovery Time Objective) is the maximum amount of time that can pass after a disaster (or an outage) takes place before a certain application or service is up and running again.

Support for disaster recovery to any public or private cloud, as well as cross-cloud disaster recovery

First and foremost, this feature helps avoid vendor lock-in and ensures higher flexibility and availability. Then, this can help reduce cost and further minimize RPO and RTO when recovering to a DR site or failing back to production.

Support for advanced scenarios

Robust disaster recovery software supports for advanced scenarios, including those that involve cloud backup with hot and cold storage or on-premise disaster recovery.

Analytics and reporting functionality

This feature provides the ability to monitor a project (or even multiple projects if necessary) through a console and get insightful reports on resource utilization.

Robust user and rights management

For the sake of security, disaster recovery software should be equipped with role-based access management and audit functionality, so that a business owner or another responsible person can manage user access policies and assign different roles to the company members and to various resources.

Let’s summarize. To prepare a business for cloud disaster recovery, a backup site that duplicates infrastructure – virtual machines, connections between them, and network settings – should be created in the cloud. 

To realize this, there are two groups of options available. First, you can choose Amazon, Microsoft, Google or OpenStack as a target site; however, it will be extremely difficult to set up your cloud-based disaster recovery environment with your bare hands. Second, you can consider using Disaster Recovery-as-a-Service with a rich out-of-the-box functionality – there are many providers of such services. To choose the right DRaaS for your needs, thoroughly study their feature list, their cost, and compare them head-to-head.

Nick Smirnov, CEO and Co-Founder

Nick Smirnov, CEO at Hystax

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