No Margin for Error

By Samuel Greengard Print this article Print

Disasters and business disruptions are inevitable. An effective disaster recovery and business continuity strategy encompasses people, technology and processes.


No Margin for Error

Classifying data and understanding its value throughout the entire business life cycle is critical. As recovery time objectives (RTO) and recovery point objectives (RPO) have shrunk, organizations are increasingly pressed to build out systems that leave no margin for error … or data loss.

Deloitte’s Sarabacha says that, within today's environment, another key to success is an ability to avoid silos of data that frequently reside in legacy systems. Too often, "Some of the data winds up ignored,” he says. “In order to build an effective disaster recovery strategy, it's important to look at data in a holistic way."

That's certainly the goal at Central Carolina Community College in North Carolina. The school has a spate of mission-critical data to protect, including human resources files, student records, databases, payroll data, financial aid information and other records. Altogether, this data totals upward of 16 terabytes.

The college relies on two FalconStor continuous data protection (CDP) and network storage servers (NSS) to provide replication across the network. It also has outsourced email into the cloud. "If someone deletes a file or wipes out the database, we have historical records and snapshots and can retrieve the data," says MontE Christman, associate director of IT.

Two SANs connected to the FalconStor system provide instant and seamless switchover capabilities. The systems replicate every hour. In a worst-case scenario, Christman says, the college would lose anywhere from an hour to a day's worth of data, depending on its assigned value. The school periodically tests the system by deleting the primary database and then restoring it from a replicated system.

"We have moved away from a system where each server had to be backed up every night to one where everything is automated," he explains. “We are now in a much better position to survive a disaster or system failure.”

Quick Recovery

An effective disaster recovery and business continuity strategy is more than the sum of its technology. Not only is it essential to understand RPO and RTO objectives and have a sound DR plan in place, it is critical to update the plan and systems periodically to take into account changing technology along with real-world risks. As organizations migrate to an always-up scenario that focuses on 24/7/365 information availability, the stakes and the amount of planning required for DR and BC grow significantly.

Deloitte’s Sarabacha advises organizations to pay particular attention to mobile devices. For one thing, they can easily become pools of detached data. "There is a lot of valuable information residing on phones and tablets,” he points out, “and the loss of this data can cause significant problems for an organization."

For another, mobile phones can become a lifeline for an organization in the event of a disaster or major disruption. Yet, "Even if cell towers are knocked out and communication is down for an extended period, it's possible for employees to follow a disaster plan—if the organization has pushed it out to employees on their mobile devices,” Sarabacha adds.

In the end, an enterprise must embrace a strategy that encompasses systems and devices in a holistic way—and across the entire value chain. Sarabacha warns that a lack of integration can prove debilitating during a disaster.

He recommends mapping and analyzing infrastructure, data stores, applications and usage patterns "very precisely" and developing a detailed document or spider diagram that can serve as the basis for designing DR and BC systems. At the same time, it's critical to have manual systems and processes in place in case systems fail or the electricity goes out.

To be sure, the stakes have never been higher, but the tools and technologies to keep systems running have never been better.

"Business continuity and disaster recovery are nothing less than insurance policies," Laliberte of the Enterprise Strategy Group concludes. "At the end of the day, you want to know that you can keep systems running and have essential data available no matter what's thrown at them."

This article was originally published on 2012-06-04
Samuel Greengard is a freelance writer for Baseline.
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