Nov 21 2013

How the USGA Avoided a Data Recovery Bogey

Ask yourself this question: “If my data center floods tonight, how will I get all that data back tomorrow?”

At one time or another, every IT manager has faced some level of data loss and felt the inevitable pain in the pit of the stomach that follows. Just think about confirming to colleagues that files, accounting records and — worst of all — email is gone for good. It’s an unfortunate rite of passage in which an IT leader quickly learns that data management requires not just a plan A, but plans B, C and D as well.

Whether a disaster is precipitated by hardware loss, human error or an act of nature, being prepared with a well-thought-out recovery plan is vital. Additionally, the full commitment of an organization to support whatever disaster strategy IT defines is contingent on the tech team’s ability to respond, “Yes, we can recover. No problem.”

At the United States Golf Association (USGA), our focus is on serving the game of golf and the growing universe of people who play the game or want to learn more about it. While USGA’s endeavors are not tech- or sales-centered, data is as critical to operations as it is for any business.

As a nonprofit, USGA’s challenge has been to balance the cost of a reasonably priced and resource-efficient disaster recovery solution against the risk of data loss. Although financing a plan can be a tough sell to upper management, there is nothing as important to a business as investing in a comprehensive DR strategy.

A Cloud Transformation

In the past, DR solutions such as mirrored data centers were beyond the USGA’s reach, so we settled for traditional offsite tape backup rotations. With today’s dependence on real-time access to information, however, we had to rethink our recovery strategy. The cloud made this transition possible.

The value of offsite data storage may be obvious, but the cloud’s cost and operational efficiencies make it the transformative element in today’s offsite data backups. A cloud solution accounts for the ebb and flow of data backup sizes, so the monthly financial commitment for a business is defined by actual use. Additionally, with infrastructure in the hands of the hosting vendor, the USGA IT team is able to focus on business objectives and growth rather than providing IT utility services.

Prepare for the Worst

With USGA headquarters located only 40 miles from the New Jersey coastline, Superstorm Sandy put our IT operations in danger when it barreled up the Eastern Seaboard in 2012. Ahead of the hurricane, we were able to remotely and dynamically adjust our plan.

The weekend before the storm hit, we increased the target of data in our backup set to include a greater range of material than our normal daily catalog, with the intent of providing more cloud-available recovery options should our physical data center become inaccessible. Fortunately, it didn’t, but having the confidence and ability to tell USGA executives that our data would be secure and recoverable no matter what was reassuring.

Of course, there is more to recovery than safeguarding data, and with Sandy, power loss was a huge obstacle in the metropolitan area. While street power was out for almost two weeks, we were able to resume normal work hours within days of the storm. A pre-arranged mobile generator gave life to the data center and provided near uninterrupted business operations.

At the USGA, a full examination of business priorities, recovery points for data, applications, hardware, phones and network access helped shape our overall backup strategy. When combined with education and testing of the plan across the organization, the result empowered our recovery team, making it more effective. It can do the same for you. By taking a comprehensive approach to disaster recovery, IT teams can provide a winning backup game whenever and wherever it’s needed.

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