Cloud-based disaster recovery a faster and cheaper option

Managed Internet Protocol (IP) services can help small and medium sized businesses (SMBs) looking for affordable corporate-grade data recovery and business continuity systems, according to technology experts.

Once hampered by budget constraints, small businesses can now take advantage of a host of cloud-based data protection and failover offerings that at nearly a fourth of the price of installed-based systems used by larger firms, according to Craig Brown, senior manager for hosting, cloud and professional services at MTS Allstream.

The business communications provider recently partnered with Toronto-based Geminare Inc., a cloud-based data recovery service provider to deliver a new SMB-targeted offering dubbed Cloud Replication Services. The partnership will have Geminare’s fully-managed service offering running over Allstream’s nation-wide IP fibre network and delivering “immediate failover capability” to businesses across the country, said Brown.

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Brown said that in the recent past cloud-based disaster recovery (DR) was mainly focused on data storage but there is a growing shift towards replicating server environments in the cloud for business continuity (BC) purposes. “New cloud technology allows many SMBs to step up their BC and DR capabilities to the level enjoyed by much larger companies.”

Cloud services offer faster recovery time

Brown said purchase price and return on investment where traditional barriers for SMBs in obtaining enterprise grade BC and DR systems as a result start-ups were not adequately protected.

For many organizations, Brown said, the ability to conduct business as usual during an unexpected server failure or planned server downtime is critical. “Some surveys estimate that 20 per cent of SMBs suffer a major disaster every five years. Close to 45 per cent of these firms are never able to recover from a disaster.”

“Prior to the emergence of virtualization technology, data recovery and fail-over systems were generally installed one-off boxes that took up a lot of space and typically cost up to hundreds of thousands of dollars,” according to Joshua Geist, CEO of Geminare.

“Moreover, these products typically took six hours to failover to the back-up system,” he said.

The Cloud Replication Services offered by Allstream and Geminare is capable of failover times of about 60 seconds, said Geist.  “This is done through auto-failover and redirection of users to a real-time, replicated server environment in the cloud.”

There are no specific price structures for upcoming Cloud Replication Services which is expected to be available in March this year, but Geist said the price will “likely be 24 per cent of the cost of enterprise solutions.”

When tape back-up is not enough

Cost, compliance issues and back-up capabilities became an issue for Xenos Group Inc. a Richmond Hill, Ont.-based software manufacturer. Traditional tape-back up technology failed to keep pace with the volume of data the company was accumulating due to weekend back-up processes, according to Raymond Cheong, director of information systems for Xenos.

“We were never sure if we were truly compliant because people continued to work with data, even during the back-up window,” said Cheong.

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The Xenos official said assurance of quick system recovery was critical from a compliance and service point of view. “At this time, on this continent, given scenarios like 9/11, blackouts and SOX – the consequences of non-compliance are severe. With the number of off-site tapes we had, could we recover in a timely manner? We determined we could not,” he said.

Cheong said Xenos initially considered expanding its current tape back-up capabilities through purchasing more tape machines. “But there were so many costs in terms of people and processes and there was no guarantee that more tape machines would bring about faster recovery in the case of an outage.”

Xenos was also looking for a system that would offer uninterrupted communication for clients. The company needed to demonstrate to customers that in the event of an outage, email and BlackBerry services would be restored within acceptable timeframes, said Cheong.

With as much as 60 per cent of Xenos’ intellectual property embedded in email, encryption was also mandatory. The recovery solution also needed to be compliant with Statement on Auditing Standards (SAS) 70, an auditing standard that requires service providers to have adequate controls and safeguards when they host or process data belonging to their customers.

After trying several in-house technology solutions, Xenos determined that a monthly managed service would be more suitable than buying, implementing and managing an internal system. The company chose a host-based continuity service from Geminare.

The host-based service provided Xenos with seamless continuity of service during a disruption, said Cheong.

“We’d had email and BlackBerry outages in the past when it took us four to five days to recover. Now, once an outage is declared, we can continue to log onto email as though nothing has happened.”
He said systems changes are also replicated on an ongoing basis so that Xenos’ data is always current. “And once the infrastructure is repaired, it takes just 30 minutes to failback to our productions server. Meanwhile our users are not even aware an outage occurred.”

An affordable solution for SMBs

Cloud-based disaster recovery and server replication services such as those offered by companies like Geminare provide affordable alternatives to SMBs, according to Krista Napier, senior analyst for IDC Canada.
“The technology is designed to allow the small and medium seized market to move to a managed service model for the replication and archiving of critical applications and databases without additional capital or software expenditure,” Napier said.

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This, she added, reduces the need and operational cost for on-premise disaster recovery infrastructure.

Napier also said hosted services are designed to scale over time without increasing the cost of overhead on a physical building. “Some of these services pay for themselves within a year in many cases when you take into account software licencing, hardware purchases, extra bandwidth and power requirements associated with alternatives such as colocation,” said Napier.

In the case of Xenos, the company was able to realize further savings by reducing the need to monitor, maintain and support the DR and BC systems.

“There’s a cost factor around the monitoring, maintenance and support of any internal solution you put in place. This involves people, processes and technologies needed to manage the system internally. With host-based services all that can be managed with just one phone call,” said Cheong.

Nestor Arellano is a Senior Writer at ITBusiness.ca. Follow him on Twitter, read his blog, and join the IT Business Facebook Page.

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