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Lost in Translation (Part II): The difference between replication and backup for the C-Suite executive


“An organization’s ability to learn and translate that learning into action rapidly is the ultimate competitive advantage.” Jack Welch

As a C-suite executive, you likely embrace a similar philosophy to that of Jack Welch. It’s helped you rise to the top of your field. You are in charge. You need the facts short and sweet, so you can translate that knowledge into action.  Having covered backup as an essential component of a sound DR strategy in a previous blog post, we turn to data replication and why many companies now employ both backup and replication to protect their business.

What is replication?

Data replication is recreating your production environment in another location outside of your business, typically in real time or near-real time. Generally, it is performed outside your operating system, in the cloud, on virtual machines. With applications and data stored this way, a business can stay up and running in the event of everything from hurricanes to hackers. In case of a catastrophic event, whether it’s your building burning down or a virus infecting your servers, replication allows you to:

Vastly reduce downtime. Replicating means your applications, as well as your mission-critical data, are stored on virtual machines in the cloud. Because a copy of all your mission critical applications and data are there, IT can “failover”. In other words, it can migrate production seamlessly to cloud. There’s no need for your customers or employees to wait on IT to pull out backup tapes and rebuild servers.

Have a recovery point objective (RPO) as quick as 10 seconds after production. RPO is a metric that measures how much data loss your business can reasonably absorb. If you run a business with a high volume of transactions each day, the loss of a single day’s data could be devastating. If you replicate, IT can pinpoint exactly when the disaster occurred, and potentially restore all but 10 seconds worth of that data.

Retain daily changes to your data that may not yet have been saved or backed up. Remember, backup is a scheduled event. Say your IT department backs up the company’s data every night at 9 p.m. If an employee downloads a virus at 4 p.m. the following afternoon, you will lose all the data from the 8 a.m. start of the workday through 4:00 p.m., because backup hasn’t taken place yet.  If you replicate, you will have a copy of that data.

If we’re replicating everything, why backup?

Replication and backup perform very differently. Keep in mind, replication is generally reserved to keep mission-critical production operational in order to keep your business running during a disaster. Very few companies replicate all their data. To replicate and store everything would be vastly expensive. Moreover, replication isn’t fail proof. It’s a duplicate. Replication will copy any changes made on your servers, even if the change is a virus. It simply records that virus as a change. The same applies to deleting files. If you’ve deleted a file in production, it’s gone in replication too.

Backup fills the gaps replication can’t. It is your “storage pantry” of data. It’s important to remember that, in all likelihood, you aren’t replicating ALL of your data.  Your IT department needs backups to put everything back, right where it was, before the disaster occurred. Also note that backup is useful on a daily basis. IT uses it frequently for day-to-day issues like deleted board presentations, etc., as well as for fulfilling compliance requirements.

For many mid-sized companies, it makes sense to do both. There are pain points involved with only doing backup or only doing replication. But it’s worth consulting with a DR specialist or consultant before making any decisions.

Determining whether your company needs replication

Replicated data, as previously mentioned, is sent to another location. It has a destination to ensure your mission-critical production is protected, even in the event of a fire. In most cases, replicated data is sent to a cloud provider.

Some cloud providers offer a DR solution called Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS). DRaaS works in a similar way to insurance. Your provider will help you assess whether you need replication in addition to backup. Key steps will be inventorying your production; evaluating what can be simply be backed up and stored at a separate facility; and determining what is critical to keep your organization operating.  A provider should also help you plan, test and execute a failover in the event of a disaster. Again, like an insurance company, your provider usually has a variety of options available to ensure that your DR plan is affordable.

Replication is a powerful technology that is beneficial when used to solve business continuity issues in an emergency. Likewise, backup provides a compelling solution for creating, managing and accessing your data on a day-to-day basis, as well as help for DR. These two technologies complement one another, but are not replacements for each other.  For many mid-sized companies, it’s usually ideal to have both.

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About Peak 10

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Board Member, Peak 10 + ViaWest