Mar 09 2023

How Cloud Disaster Recovery is Revolutionary

Coming back from a cyberattack or system failure has never been faster or simpler thanks to solutions delivered as a service.

Since it began occupying its new arena in 2016, the Sacramento Kings basketball team has been moving many of its workloads — email systems, file servers, Microsoft 365 — to the cloud. One thing was missing, however: a seamless disaster recovery solution that could simultaneously maintain security on-premises and in the cloud.

So, in May 2021, the Kings worked with a managed service provider to implement Acronis’s cloud backup and disaster recovery (DR) platform. “They pretty much helped my team, step by step, to get the solution up and running,” says Eric King, vice president of technology for the team. “It took us about 30 days from start to finish.”

He appreciated that Acronis worked out of the box with Microsoft Azure, so it was a simple transition to get it to work with the infrastructure the organization had in place.

The system has a dashboard with a single pane of glass including all the controls for the organization’s entire infrastructure, both on-premises and in the cloud. “It’s a really clean console,” King says. “It just works in the background. It’s connected. We get reporting. It frees my team up to do other things and not just manage it. We can set it and forget it.”

Since implementation, the Kings have done quarterly testing with no issues, but the organization got to see the system in action in December, when one of its servers went offline and had to be restored from the cloud. “You always wonder, does it work?” King says. “We ran through the console, and everything came back up and running. So, it works as advertised.”

The Kings are part of a wave of organizations that have turned to cloud-based solutions to manage their DR needs, even as they shift more workloads to the cloud. Solutions such as Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS) began to achieve critical mass four or five years ago, offering on-demand cloud services that dramatically lowered costs, since businesses only pay for what they provision, and pay for recovery only if a disaster hits, explains Phil Goodwin, research vice president at IDC.

Today, the marketplace is dense with cloud-based DR providers offering a range of specialties and service levels, Goodwin says: “Organizations have a tremendous number of options available to them in the marketplace because it is so robust.”

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How the Financial Sector Is Benefiting from DRaaS

The shift to DRaaS in early 2022 was a game changer for Automated Financial Systems.

Over the past year, AFS, an Exton, Pa.-based provider of lending and risk management solutions for financial institutions, has been moving its commercial lending system for clients from its legacy mainframe environment to its new distributed cloud platform, AFSVision. The new environment, consisting of Linux-based virtual machines running on-premises or in the cloud, uses continuous data protection from Zerto.

Continuous data protection provides a journaled replication of the entire environment in nearly real time. It allows AFS to spin up its second site with the same network parameters as the primary site.

“It’s an identical replica,” explains Radford Laney, senior vice president and CIO at AFS. “There are no choices about whether to replicate this or that. Before, there was a lot of parsing of things because you wanted to save money. Now, we just push it all over all the time.”

That’s an important component in simplifying DR environments, says Goodwin. Organizations can highly compress data or deduplicate it, for instance, allowing them to replicate sites while maintaining a minimal cloud footprint.

That translates into higher confidence that they can execute the failover without error, Laney says: “The whole idea of DR really comes down to making it business as usual instead of some special event. It’s something that you do every day, and you have confidence that it will support you in a time of need. It shouldn’t feel like it’s a moonshot.”

LEARN MORE: How this Wisconsin-based insurance company benefited from DRaaS.

The Role of the Cloud in DRaaS

Before the cloud, DR was anything but business as usual. Laney recalls a time years ago, while working at an international bank, that he and his team created a DR system for a foreign exchange platform with a one-hour failover. When the exchange went down for 12 hours, higher-ups wanted answers.

“Turns out, they took 11 hours to decide to fail over,” Laney says. “They had to go to the boss and the boss’s boss. They had to escalate up to the president, who was on a boat somewhere. It was just this ridiculous series of approvals.”

That’s because DR was difficult in those days, he says. Systems were complex and painful to manage. Even if a company decided to fail over to a DR site, the idea of reversing it was often daunting.

“Disaster recovery has always been like a pebble in your shoe: It’s always there and it always hurts. That’s what we’re trying to avoid now,” Laney says.

DRaaS providers offer several other tools beyond continuous data protection, such as extensive testing capabilities and automated dependency mapping. The latter solution crawls through the network and application servers to locate connections and dependencies so organizations know what boot-order sequence to follow in restoring servers. “There are mission-critical applications that depend upon input from applications that are not considered mission-critical,” says Goodwin.

“In my old system, it was everybody goes or nobody goes,” says Laney. “That was a huge issue, because if you have a problem with one, like the saying goes, we all go like a bunch of lemmings over the hill.” Now, AFS can scale part of the virtual environment up and down or scale up one customer at a time. “It allows us to test individual customers as opposed to undertaking a massive coordination effort,” he says.

    Eric King
    It just works in the background. It’s connected. We get reporting. It frees my team up to do other things and not just manage it. We can set it and forget it.”

    Eric King Vice President of Technology, Sacramento Kings

    How DRaaS Is Supporting the Employee Experience

    For years, Molded Fiber Glass (MFG), a manufacturer specializing in reinforced plastics and composites, used what CIO John O’Neill Sr. referred to as a monolithic DR solution: “Very big and not easily climbed.”

    Employees would call in support tickets and wait days for a response, “even though we were paying hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in support fees,” O’Neill says. Other costs piled up thanks to the complexity of the system: increased labor costs to bring back systems, lost revenue and decreased productivity.

    “Every hour you take off the equation for recovery, you’re adding hard dollars back into the organization,” says O’Neill. “So, the simpler you are, the more efficient you are, the less time it takes.”

    About 5 years ago, when MFG’s DR hardware was at the end of its life, the company set out to replace it. MFG’s former DR vendor made a pitch, but O’Neill wanted a partner he could count on.

    “When I need it to recover from a ransomware attack, I need it to make me whole again in the fastest, most streamlined, simplest manner possible,” O’Neill says.

    EXPLORE: How managed detection and response can enhance data protection efforts.

    He had friends and business partners who were part of Veeam’s Vanguard program, and he liked with what they had to say about the technology itself as well as Veeam’s reputation for support, including its response time and capability.

    “When I call support, am I getting somebody that can actually help me or am I getting somebody who’s reading from a script?” O’Neill asks. He was also impressed with Veeam’s training and information, which allowed his team to skill up and support the product internally. “Then, I started looking at the dollars and cents,” he says. “It really resulted in a seven-figure savings. That’s a very meaningful motivator.”

    MFG used a third party to migrate to Veeam Availability Suite, then transitioned management to an internal team. The fact that Veeam runs on Microsoft Windows, which O’Neill’s team has extensive experience with, made transitioning easier. “It was far faster, far less painful and far more seamless than experiences in the past,” he says.

    By 2019, MFG had migrated to Microsoft 365-based email, eliminating its on-premises platform. Veeam had a native solution for that, which simplified the process. MFG still has on-premises file servers and Active Directory servers, which they protect with Veeam.

    In a hybrid era, we need a hybrid DR solution,” O’Neill says. “But it needs to be hybrid without complexity. This is all straightforward and well laid out and well defined.”

    Photography by Cody Pickens

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