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Data Backup vs. Replication vs. Disaster Recovery

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August 12, 2014
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Data backup, replication and disaster recovery (DR) are often, erroneously, used interchangeably. For example, it’s not uncommon for someone to say, “I have a DR plan. We back up our files once a day.” Or, “We replicate our data to tape and store it offsite.” Each concept has its place protecting data and retrieving data, but how and why each applies is different.

Let’s start first by saying that neither data backup nor data replication constitutes a DR plan.  Second, data backups involve data recovery but not DR.  Third, replication has everything to do with DR, but there are many more components to a quality disaster recovery plan. Got it?

Let’s look deeper.

Back it All Up

Data backup up is just that, making a copy of your data files by taking periodic snapshots.  It could be hours between snapshots, or days, depending on business objectives. The traditional backup is often to physical tape (the least expensive storage medium but also the least flexible in terms of retrieving information) or to a virtual tape library (VTL) and kept offsite.  Retrieving the media and then pulling the information off is a time-consuming task, and falls far short of  meaningful DR requirements.

The use case for data backup is to have a copy or copies of everything from the least important information to the most critical for the purpose of compliance and/or pinpoint data recovery of, let’s say, an employee’s emails for e-discovery, or a single transaction from five years ago or a deleted file from yesterday.

Many organizations traditionally have done their own backup.  The cloud provides an attractive alternative, especially with the rapid increase in data consumption within companies today.  Security and compliance must be maintained.  Many Peak 10 colocation and cloud customers rely on us to back up their data according to predefined time windows and to provide ongoing retention. Peak 10 will back up customer data on Peak 10 hardware, manage data backup on customer-provided hardware, rotate tapes and manage customer’s backup library, or replicate data to alternate sites as needed.

Replicate the Critical

Data replication is another matter.  Replication involves copying and moving data to another location, typically in real time or near-real time.  Doing this for all of an organization’s data would be prohibitively expensive, which is why replication is reserved for only the most essential applications, processes and data, for keeping a business up and running in the event of disaster.

A key component of a data replication strategy is to define recovery time objectives (RTO) and recovery point objectives (RPO); that is, how long can you be without critical workloads and how much data loss can the business reasonably absorb?  The less flexible the RTO/RPO requirements are, the more complex and costly the solution will be.

Peak 10 provides customers with solutions according to their needs, tailoring the most cost-effective and efficient means possible to achieve their objectives.  Using industry best-practice software and procedures, Peak 10 will manage data replication between one or more pairs of Windows or Linux servers.  This includes asynchronous, near-synchronous and synchronous replication.  Peak 10’s Recovery Cloud employs continuous data protection (CDP) versus scheduled replication happening a few times a day, which results in less data loss in the event of a failure.

Equipped to Recover, But Ready?

Data replication and RTO/RPO are essential to an effective DR plan, but that is not all that is required.  Replication means only that you have a copy of company-critical information available to you and that you have the raw material for declaring an emergency and consequently enacting a comprehensive DR plan.  In turn, a DR plan will be a component of a larger business continuity (BC) plan, which is becoming a regulatory compliance necessity in some industries such as healthcare.

Traditional DR required the IT department to stand up a duplicate but depreciated physical environment and then apply a replication strategy to that new infrastructure.  This method of accommodating business continuity is often expensive, difficult to implement, test and maintain.  There always seems to be a nagging fear this significant investment will fail to reliably deliver the services required to meet the business needs.  There are better and more efficient methods available today, especially if your infrastructure resides in the cloud.

Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS) is becoming one of Peak 10’s high-demand services within the cloud.  A huge benefit of DRaaS is that it affords the ability to regularly test your DR plan, which is one of the most ignored aspects of self-provided DR planning.  Once you have defined your RPO and RTO, tested your plan and clearly defined the parameters necessary to declare an emergency, the rest happens automatically with DRaaS.  This includes another frequently overlooked aspect of DR … failing back to the production site once the emergency has passed.

Understanding that the nature and purpose of backup, replication and DR are complementary but not interchangeable IT functions that will help you design and implement the right combination of each to the advantage of your entire organization.  It’s the business requirements that define how you construct your backup and DR plan.

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About Peak 10

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Board Member, Peak 10 + ViaWest