Feature: Shedding risk

Users eye cloud for storage and disaster recovery

US-based Mozy, which is owned by EMC, claims that more than 50,000 businesses use its MozyPro service, including accounting firms, banks and the University of San Francisco, in addition to over a million consumers.

Restoring data from Mozy is easy and “reasonably painless”, says Clist. When Computerworld talked to him the company had just done a quick restore of 580MB, which the system compressed to 92MB. It took 14 minutes to retrieve the selected information and about five minutes to download, he says. You can also choose to have the restore couriered to you on DVD.

A smart feature is that after the initial backup, the Mozy system only backs up new or changed parts of files, saving bandwidth and making future backups faster.

In addition to daily online backups, Canary uses local continuity and contingency services specialist Plan-b for daily tape rotations. It also uses separate database and application servers for key services, implemented in such a way that the applications and databases can failover to run together on a single server in each group if necessary.

“Business continuity is a lot bigger than many people think,” says Clist. “You have to be prepared for so many unexpected things. What if your office burnt down or key staff members were incapacitated? And it extends to more than just data backups – for example, it might be a good idea to keep a physical printout of your disaster recovery plan secured with your solicitor or in another secure place external to the business.”

Canary started 10 years ago and while storage requirements have been constantly growing, storage has also become simpler, says Clist. The company uses source control that puts all code into a secured off-site repository, allowing his team to go back to previous versions of the code at any time. The team also makes heavy use of their ‘wiki’ documentation, so that all information is easily accessible and updated. If one team member drops off a project, it is easy for someone else to pick up where the work was left.

Demand from service providers

Growing adoption of cloud storage and disaster recovery services is making itself known through demand from the service provider community. “Their customers are asking for a service they can take advantage of when and how much they need it,” says EMC’s Patterson.

Plan-b, mentioned above, is one of the service providers that has partnered with EMC. With around 500 customers in Australia and New Zealand, offices in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington and Christchurch, and a range of services that include storing of backup media offsite, online backup, recovery facilities, server replication and recovery, business continuity management advice and online crisis response – the company is one of New Zealand’s largest business continuity service providers.

US-based Mozy, which is owned by EMC, claims that more than 50,000 businesses use its MozyPro service, including accounting firms, banks and the University of San Francisco, in addition to over a million consumers.

Restoring data from Mozy is easy and “reasonably painless”, says Clist. When Computerworld talked to him the company had just done a quick restore of 580MB, which the system compressed to 92MB. It took 14 minutes to retrieve the selected information and about five minutes to download, he says. You can also choose to have the restore couriered to you on DVD.

A smart feature is that after the initial backup, the Mozy system only backs up new or changed parts of files, saving bandwidth and making future backups faster.

In addition to daily online backups, Canary uses local continuity and contingency services specialist Plan-b for daily tape rotations. It also uses separate database and application servers for key services, implemented in such a way that the applications and databases can failover to run together on a single server in each group if necessary.

“Business continuity is a lot bigger than many people think,” says Clist. “You have to be prepared for so many unexpected things. What if your office burnt down or key staff members were incapacitated? And it extends to more than just data backups – for example, it might be a good idea to keep a physical printout of your disaster recovery plan secured with your solicitor or in another secure place external to the business.”

Canary started 10 years ago and while storage requirements have been constantly growing, storage has also become simpler, says Clist. The company uses source control that puts all code into a secured off-site repository, allowing his team to go back to previous versions of the code at any time. The team also makes heavy use of their ‘wiki’ documentation, so that all information is easily accessible and updated. If one team member drops off a project, it is easy for someone else to pick up where the work was left.

Demand from service providers

Growing adoption of cloud storage and disaster recovery services is making itself known through demand from the service provider community. “Their customers are asking for a service they can take advantage of when and how much they need it,” says EMC’s Patterson.

Plan-b, mentioned above, is one of the service providers that has partnered with EMC. With around 500 customers in Australia and New Zealand, offices in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington and Christchurch, and a range of services that include storing of backup media offsite, online backup, recovery facilities, server replication and recovery, business continuity management advice and online crisis response – the company is one of New Zealand’s largest business continuity service providers.

Plan-b noticed that the business side in many organisations increasingly demanded better and faster services from their IT departments. Only two years ago, businesses would generally back up data each night, whereas today, organisations typically back up data twice a day, ensuring they would lose no more than four hours’ worth of data if they were hit by a disaster, says Symon Thurlow, Plan-b’s technical director.

To meet the demands for faster backups and replication, Plan-b needed to upgrade its services.

“We needed customers to send information to us over a data communications link rather than on physical media such as tape,” says Thurlow. “We also needed a platform that enabled customer data to be retrieved more quickly than from a standard tape.”

Plan-b started looking for an online backup system in 2008, and selected EMC Avamar after a tough evaluation process. It was its advanced data deduplication functionality and ability to facilitate quick recovery across multiple servers that made the team at Plan-b choose the EMC system. Plan-b launched its online backup service in April last year.

Another reason why Plan-b went for the Avamar system was its ability to eliminate redundant data before it’s transmitted across a communications link. This means customers’ bandwidth cost can be kept to a minimum. Thurlow says none of Plan-b’s customers had to change their existing links to support the online backup service.

Plan-b initially visits customers to take the first backup locally, but once the architecture is set up, only about 1 percent of the data in the customer’s infrastructure is sent to Plan-b each day to achieve full backup, says Thurlow.

Server virtualisation a catalyst

In addition to an increasing understanding of the importance of appropriate and adequate disaster recovery solutions, local companies are also showing a lot of interest in deduplication and other smart technologies that slash the amount of physical storage required, says Terry Dunn, managing director of VAD, a division of Ingram Micro. “Virtualisation has evolved for many organisations beyond the concept stage to a critical business tool,” he says.

Phillip Martin, Storage Works business manager at Hewlett-Packard in New Zealand, says one of the catalysts for disaster recovery and business continuity is server virtualisation.

“Server virtualisation doesn’t just mean you can consolidate storage and develop shared storage systems, it also means you can take the next step and start looking at replicated sites.”

HP too has experienced stronger uptake in the mid-market in the last year. Its LeftHand P4000 technology is targeting budget-minded smaller and mid-sized companies with its scalable, pay-as-you-grow pricing model.

For larger enterprises there is the Utility Ready Storage system, which works a bit like a private cloud, says Martin. The utility approach to storage means no capital expenditure for customers and it allows customers to scale storage up and down, as their business demands.

A hurdle for companies, when looking at adopting a business continuity strategy, is understanding what the challenges and needs of the business really are. Sometimes there can be a disconnection between the IT team and the business, says Martin. It comes down understanding what the Recovery Time Objectives are – how long the system can be down – and Recovery Point Objective – the point in time when data should be restored following a business continuity incident. If the business understands this, it can look at what the real cost to the business is and then justify what form of disaster recovery it requires, he says.

Economic dip forces efficiency

The recent economic downturn has definitely had an impact on the business continuity space, but on the whole, it’s a good thing, says EMC’s Patterson. Tighter IT budgets have meant many can’t afford the solutions they really want right now, but it has also created smarter thinking around storage and disaster recovery, he says. A lot of businesses are future proofing their systems by ensuring they can add the business continuity part once their budget allows it.

“Finally, businesses are taking into account the cost of doing nothing,” he says. “What are the risks of continuing with the infrastructure as it is today?”

“If anything, the economic slowdown has provided IT departments with the opportunity to get their house in order,” says Hitachi’s De Luca. “We are working with organisations across New Zealand to improve business policies and help deploy technologies such as storage virtualisation and dynamic provisioning to provide an agile IT environment. We are finding organisations are able to generate a 25 to 30 percent saving by undertaking this strategy.”

The recession has also led to an increased interest in storage efficiency. In the past six months, organisations have become more focused on storage efficiency and being smarter about how they store, manage and protect their data, and less focused on performance, says Martin.

Many customers are looking at pooling of storage resources, not only to achieve greater utilisation of their storage, but also to reduce power and cooling requirements, making the environment more efficient to manage.

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