Virtualization and Mission-Critical Apps Drive Enterprise Disaster Recovery Plans

A Symantec-conducted study found that virtualization technologies are driving IT departments to reevaluate their disaster recovery plans. In addition, the study found, the average data center has an increasing number of mission-critical applications?and that not all are covered in the corporate disaster recovery plan.

The Disaster Recovery Research study, which was conducted in July 2008, surveyed 1,000 IT managers from large organizations in 14 countries. The research examined factors associated with disaster recovery, DR planning and testing, the impact of virtualization on DR, and the implementation of DR strategies.

?We?ve been doing the Disaster Recovery survey annually for the past four years, and this year we expanded the list of countries we surveyed,? says Dan Lamorena, senior product marketing manager, high availability and disaster recovery for Symantec. ?This was the first year that we added virtualization questions into the mix?since that technology is clearly changing a lot of the ways that people are looking at the disaster recovery plans.?

Disaster recovery plans should be a critical part of any enterprise IT organization, especially as technology becomes an increasingly vital aspect of corporate performance. The study found that as many as one third of IT organizations had to put their DR plans into action to respond to computer systems failures, external computer threats, power outages, natural disasters or other threats. Of those that executed their plans, just under half reported that they were able to resume full operations within a week. ?Clearly, companies cannot consider their disaster recovery plan as something they can put on the shelf and let it collect dust,? says Lamorena.

Many organizations, however, don?t test their DR plans?mainly due to time constraints, fear of disruption to employees, budget limitations or disruption to customers, or worries that testing will disrupt the corporate revenue stream, the study found. In fact, approximately 47 percent of organizations test their DR plans either once a year or less.

On the bright side, IT organizations that test corporate DR plans are increasingly successful. Last year, half of organizations reported that their DR plan failed in testing; this year, two thirds of companies had successful tests, the survey found. Only 16 percent say that tests have never failed. ?The number one reason that DR tests fail is that people don?t do what they are supposed to do,? says Lamorena. ?We?ve seen that organizations that use automation can reduce this risk.?

In addition, the study found that the percentage of applications that respondents deemed ?mission-critical? rose substantially, from 36 percent of all applications last year to 56 percent this year. And only half of mission-critical applications are addressed disaster recovery plans. ?Information technologies are getting more integral to how people do business,? says Lamorena. ?In the past, for example, e-mail was something that was nice to have but it wouldn?t ruin the business if it went down; now e-mail and messaging are tier one applications for many organizations.?

Virtualization has also shifted DR planning for many companies. ?Virtualization is forcing folks to take a hard look at what they were doing in the past,? says Eric Schou, senior product marketing manager, NetBackup at Symantec. ?We are seeing?rather than minor tweaks?more of an overall redesign of the total IT environment.? 

Sixty-four percent of those surveyed said that virtualization had caused the organization to reexamine and update its DR plans, while more than a third said that their virtual servers were not covered in their organizations? DR plans. Meanwhile, 54 percent of respondents listed resource constraints as their top challenge for backing up virtual systems?highlighting a need for simpler and more automated tools.