Executive Director, HP Business Continuity and Availability Services

When Clearview Strategic Partners Inc. decided to build a Web portal for their independent whistleblower service, they turned to Fusepoint Managed Services Inc., in Mississauga, Ont.

Clearview’s primary goals were security and high availability. Little did the company realize that it was purchasing a suite of disaster recovery (DR) services as well. The number of smaller companies that are taking advantage of disaster recovery services is increasing as managed services for things like storage are getting much more affordable.Joe Green>Text

Today Toronto-based Clearview fully appreciates the value of daily incremental backups, with weekly full backups stored off-site.

The company – which develops compliance, corporate governance and employee engagement products for organizations – draws comfort from the multiple data centres with redundant networks that would keep their site running, even if the Toronto centre were not accessible.

And Clearview knows the physical security it can see also extends to the firewalls, anti-virus measures and patch management services that protect its data from malicious exploits.

Of course, increased availability and security were not the only benefits. Opting for a managed services provider had cost advantages as well.

Phil Enright, Clearview’s executive vice-president, sales and marketing, said his company looked into building its own data centre, but quickly realized the expense wasn’t worth it. It could purchase the same level of security and availability from Fusepoint at a fraction of the cost.

The number of smaller companies such as Clearview that are taking advantage of DR services is increasing rapidly, according to Joe Green, vice-president, security research with analyst firm IDC Canada Ltd. In Toronto. He said managed services for things like storage are getting much more affordable, and that’s encouraging many more companies to go down this path.

And vendors too are playing ball, offering a broader range of managed services to suit many budgets. Today we are seeing a lot of data replication both logical, physical, onsite, offsite as well as electronic vaulting.Belinda Wilson>Text

For instance, with falling disk storage prices companies like Hewlett-Packard Company (HP) based in Palo Alto, Calif. are offering reasonably priced “e-vaulting” (that essentially uses remote disks in place of tape for backups) and data replication services. Lower bandwidth costs allow for off-site data mirroring.

Belinda Wilson, executive director, HP Business Continuity and Availability Services, contrasts how backups were done in the past with the process today. “Several years ago you would do logical disc mirroring then you do offsite tape storage, and a regular backup,” she reminisces. “Whereas today we are seeing a lot of data replication both logical, physical, onsite, offsite as well as electronic vaulting.”

These changes now make it quite feasible to mirror your data and applications to a second data centre in another city. Not only would your data be safer in the event of a disaster, but you could also restore it much faster.

Some companies are experimenting with a combination of backup technologies to protect their sensitive data.

For instance, Rahul Mehta, CEO of storage management software vendor, NuView Inc. in Houston, Texas, tells of a larger Wall Street client that uses what he calls a “multi-hop model.” This client’s data is mirrored in real time within the primary data centre. Their data is also mirrored at a second, remote data centre connected by a WAN. Finally, regular tape backups are run from the storage appliance at the secondary data centre, with the tape being stored off-site. This gives them three levels of backup.Chief among the barriers is the conviction — prevalent among non-technical executives — that the likelihood of being affected by a disaster is low.

Software vendors such as NuView also offer a variety of products to automate and speed up the process of restoring data after a disaster. Their DDM (Data on Demand Manager) product, for example, gets file servers back on-line very quickly by restoring only the file headers — not the complete file — as the first step in data restoration.

Only when a client requests a file is a copy immediately restored from the backup system. Later, the complete system can be restored in a more orderly fashion.

Wilson agrees that, despite the many options now offered by technology, there are still barriers to disaster recovery planning in many companies.

Chief among these is the conviction — prevalent among non-technical executives — that the likelihood of being affected by a disaster is low.

Yet each natural disaster, virus pandemic and terrorist attack reminds us that this is gamblers’ optimism at best.

These experts point out that the logical starting point, and the best way to overcome this insouciance is to do a business impact analysis (BIA). This identifies the most probable risks and the consequences to the business of each.

Their advice: Use the BIA to determine recovery time objectives (RTO) for the most critical applications and data. Then begin by attacking the highest priorities first.

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