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Hot, cold and warm backup sites: Which is just right?

Published: July 29th, 2015 By: Lynn Greiner

When disaster strikes, it’s important to get operations going again as quickly as possible. If that doesn’t happen, chances are the business will fail; the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency says that forty per cent of businesses don’t even re-open after a disaster. And one huge part of the recovery is getting the IT infrastructure up and running.


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For companies that can’t afford downtime, that means maintaining a backup site. There are three main options: a hot site, a cold site, or a warm site.

We’re not talking about the temperature of the room. Instead, the deciding factor is the readiness for immediate use, and the associated cost.

The least expensive option is a cold site. Basically, it’s serviced data centre space; an empty room. There’s no computer equipment installed, and your backups aren’t there, ready to go. In case of disaster, you have to source and install equipment, then get it configured and retrieve and restore data. That takes time, effort, and money at the time of the disaster, but is the least expensive to maintain.

Some companies cut costs by saving old servers that have been retired from the primary data centre for use in the cold site. That does save a few dollars, but may not provide sufficient horsepower – those servers were usually replaced for a reason – however, they may do in a pinch, and the benefit is that they can be preconfigured before being put on the shelf.

Next in the dollar queue is the warm site. It has equipment installed and connectivity established, but may not have all of the resources of the primary site. Data may or may not be present already, but will probably not be up-to-date, so there would be a delay while current backups are retrieved and loaded. It’s quicker to get going at a warm site than at a cold site, but it’s not immediate.

If you absolutely have to fire up the backup site the moment your primary site goes down, a hot site is the only way to go. It can be a duplicate of the primary, with live equipment, the same capacity, and as close to current data as possible, or it could be sized to run mission-critical operations only, depending on company requirements. Some companies operate two data centres, with each acting as the hot site for the other, and data continuously synchronized between the two, so they can do an immediate fail-over. The newest options are in cloud solutions such as DRaaS and IaaS; organizations may use managed hosting or a company that specializes in providing backup facilities to accomplish the same ends. Again, you can get anything from what’s essentially a hot site on down, depending on how much time and money you have. In any case, a hot site isn’t cheap.

Rarely, two organizations with sufficient spare capacity may embark in a reciprocal agreement, in which each agrees to back the other up in case of disaster. It takes careful attention to SLAs, however, and a lot of trust.

Making a decision can be difficult. Balancing budget and needs is a juggling act. Consulting pros like the Rogers business continuity experts can help weigh the alternatives and come up with a plan that works.

 


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