Cloud-Based DR Service Protects Think Tank’s Data

Nobody likes to envision the worst case scenario, but that’s part of the job for IT managers. Organizations need a disaster recovery plan that protects data and restores it quickly if trouble strikes, while keeping it easily accessible for day-to-day operations. The Wilson Center, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C., relies on a Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS) solution to keep its operations secure.

Every year, the center welcomes 120 new fellows from around the world, as well as 200 interns who conduct research on global issues and foreign policy. A team of five IT professionals, led by Chief Technology Officer Bruce Griffith, supports those scholars and the organization’s staff of 150 individuals. The team manages everything from users’ desktops and collaboration systems to the overall IT infrastructure.

Security is a top priority for the Wilson Center since the nation’s capital can be a target for both physical and cyber-attacks. In addition, visiting scholars who oppose their government or neighboring countries might be at risk.

“It was critical to ensure that our data was safe from outside threats,” Griffith says, “but every user’s information has to be accessible as well. We have to allow our staff, fellows and interns to continue working and collaborating.”

Seeking a Secure Disaster Recovery Solution

The answer to this quandary  was a secure disaster recovery (DR) solution. Because the Wilson Center adheres to U.S. Federal Industry Processing Standards (US FIPS) for the bulk of its operations, it needed a system that met those requirements. After considering numerous options, the center selected a DR product and began using it in the spring of 2014.

“We had six different systems that needed to be replicated,” Griffith relates. “We picked the easiest one first so we could get our feet wet with that.”

However, technical limitations soon became apparent. The organization spent about a year working with the provider and changing its infrastructure to accommodate the solution. “We limped along, but we realized that the product we’d selected wasn’t the right fit for us,” he says.

Griffith began searching for a flexible, reliable and cost-effective DR solution that included colocation for an additional security device. iland DRaaS, integrated with Zerto replication, proved to be the best fit.

iland’s cloud console allows the Wilson Center’s users to keep an up-to-date copy of virtualized applications in iland’s cloud, recovering and testing them as needed on a self-service basis. Another plus: the flexible pricing, which is based on the number of virtual machines and terabytes of storage being used. In addition, the security features of the cloud platform—including encryption, intrusion detection and antivirus/antimalware—address federal requirements.

Installation began in the fall of 2015. Using a VPN connection, Griffith and his staff conferred with the iland team, with both looking at the same screens. “In one afternoon, we replicated two of our systems,” he states. “It was that seamless, and they were that knowledgeable. This took several months to accomplish with the previous product.”

The rest of the startup went just as smoothly. “Once iland helped us set up the network configuration and we had replicated a few of our systems, our staff was able to replicate the rest,” Griffith relates. Work was completed by the spring of 2016.

Saving Time, Effort and Money

The new system saves the Wilson Center time and effort. “I don’t have the staff to dedicate to daily monitoring to ensure that everything is operating correctly,” Griffith says. “Now we can see everything at a glance on three large TVs that display the dashboards. The system brings up relevant info, so we don’t have to dig down to find out what we need to know.”

Real-time replication, with just a few moments of lag time, offers peace of mind. “In the event our systems meet our threshold for failing over, our fellows can continue working using their personal devices,” he notes. A security appliance colocated in iland’s Texas facility is ready to run if needed.

Cost savings are significant. “With our previous provider, we had to define in advance how much capacity we might need and pay for it all from day one,” Griffith recalls. “Now we pay only for what we are currently using, which saves us about 20 to 25 percent a year. We have the option of upgrading whenever we need it, so we won’t outgrow this.”

Griffith is extremely satisfied with the iland/Zerto service. “It’s nice to know it’s there if we need it,” he declares.