Cloud-based backup and disaster recover i

Cloud-based Backup and Disaster Recovery Planning – The Essentials

Because data is the lifeblood of your business, you need to ensure it is always protected against loss. This short guide will take you through the essentials of planning your data protection strategy and explores the options for cloud-based backup and disaster recovery solutions.

Technology choices

Backup and disaster recovery (DR) are similar – but different – concepts, designed to protect your data against loss. Although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably (even by technology vendors), you must know the difference to ensure you choose the right systems for you.

Do I need backup?

Backup technologies are designed to create an exact copy of your data so that you can always restore it in the event of a major problem. If your file server is infected by ransomware, backup allows you to recover affected files quickly and efficiently. This technology is particularly well suited to lower-priority data sets and systems.

Do I need Disaster Recovery?

Disaster recovery technologies are typically focused on helping your business resume operations as quickly as possible after a significant outage. Data from your mission-critical systems will be continuously replicated to the cloud (or similar off-site facility), allowing you to bring operations back online quickly.

Backup and disaster recovery (DR) are similar – but different – concepts. Although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably (even by technology vendors), you must know the difference to ensure you choose the right systems for you. You will probably need a combination of both – backup for low-priority systems, DR for the most important.

Building a workable plan

A successful plan relies on knowing what data you have and how important it is to your operations. Prioritising data will help you decide how it should be backed up and recovered.

Assessing RTO

Recovery Time Objective (RTO) describes the amount of time between your systems going down and you bringing them back online again. For mission-critical systems, your RTO targets must be as low as possible – perhaps just minutes – so you can restart operations quickly.

Systems with a high RTO are best suited to cloud-based disaster recovery solutions that offer near-instant fail-over capabilities.

Assessing RPO

Recovery Point Objective measures how much data is lost when your systems go offline. Some of your line-of-business applications will be updating constantly; any updates during a period of downtime may be lost entirely. Other systems update far less frequently – a few hours of downtime would not cause any data loss.

Systems with a low RPO are best suited to DR technologies that offer instant replication to ensure every detail is captured and protected. Higher RPO data can be used with lower-cost traditional backup mechanisms.

Replaceability and interdependence

As you assess your data estate, you need to answer two questions:

  • How easily can we replace lost data?
  • How does each application relate to the others?

Some data is more important to operations than others. Your financial data is essential – the CFO’s financial modelling spreadsheet for the financial year 1998/99 not so much. Plan your backups so that critical data is prioritised and protected accordingly.

Second, don’t forget to assess the interdependence between systems. Sometimes rarely-used systems underpin your mission-critical apps. If the ‘unimportant’ system is not backed up correctly, it’s more important sibling will be unusable. Both systems need similar levels of protection to avoid these problems.

Implementing backup

A good backup plan has three key elements:

  • Retain at least three copies of your data
  • Data is stored on two different media
  • At least one of your backup copies is stored offsite

Cloud backup solutions make this process incredibly simple, with many services offering multiple versions for restore. And because the data is stored offsite, it takes care of media and geography concerns.

Implementing disaster recovery

Disaster recovery is all about restoring operations as quickly as possible. In most cases, this will be in the form of a co-located data centre or cloud-based platform.

When choosing a partner, consider:

  • Are their replication capabilities sufficient to prevent data loss?
  • Do they offer tools and support to manage the post-failover and fail-back processes?
  • Do they offer a pricing model that aligns with your budgets?

Again, cloud technologies offer a good level of protection, flexibility and scalability that is more suitable for most businesses than a traditional co-location setup.

Testing your provisions

Replicating and backing up data is relatively easy – but can you recover it when needed? The final stage of any backup and disaster recovery plan is to test that your fail-over and recovery systems work.

Essentially, you need to be sure that your RTO and RPO goals can be met. This will mean testing backup mechanisms to ensure data can be properly restored within the specified timeframes. Similarly, you will need to trigger a live failover event periodically to confirm DR resources kick in as expected and any disruption falls within acceptable boundaries.

Through testing, you will identify weaknesses and opportunities for improvement before encountering a show-stopping outage.

Get in touch

For more help and advice about Cloud-based Backup and Disaster Recovery technologies that help protect your business against disruption and data loss, please get in get in touch.

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Creating a Successful Cloud Backup and Disaster Recovery Plan

Cloud backup and disaster recovery is easy to set up. But how can you be sure these provisions will actually work when the worst happens, and you encounter a genuine disaster?

As always, success is dependent on planning, the better your plan, the less risk of failure.

Audit your systems and data

Effective backup (and recovery) relies on having at least one copy of all of your data duplicated off-site to protect against loss of the original. As you begin designing a backup and DR plan, there are three questions to answer:

1.  What data assets do we have?

2.  Where is the data stored?

3.  What tools do we need to backup that information to the cloud?

As your business adopts more cloud services, defining what you have and where it is located is the first step to defining a workable plan. As well as the on-premise file shares, you probably have information stored in several SaaS services, including Office 365 and OneDrive. You may also have hosted email (Outlook 365) – anything stored there will also need to be included in your provisions.

You will then need to assess the available technologies to find one that can backup all of your data from every location. Do you need to install local agents? Can backup and restore operations be completed from a single console? Are there any permissions issues you need to address when connecting to third-party services?

Once you have these answers, you are in a position to select a cloud backup provider and to begin backing up to their hosted service.

Prioritise your systems and data

During a disaster, your business must be able to resume skeleton operations as quickly as possible. This means prioritising applications and data so that they are recovered in order of importance to the running of your business.

You should also look to automate as much of the recovery process as possible, freeing your IT staff to focus on other tasks (there will be plenty during a show-stopping outage).

Test your recovery plan

The worst time to discover your disaster recovery plan doesn’t work is during a disaster. Any kind of oversight could have significant consequences – which is why testing is so important.

By testing the DR plan in advance, you can confirm that:

    • All of your data is being backed up correctly
    • Your cloud backup archives are usable
    • Your order of restore does match your operational priorities.
    • Recovery completes within the acceptable timeframes.

You can then refine your DR plan, tweaking, optimising and re-aligning the various elements as required. Your cloud backup and disaster recovery plan must then be reviewed and tested regularly to ensure it continues to meet your needs.

Define – Prioritise – Test

Much like any other DR plan, an effective cloud backup strategy has three elements; define, prioritise and test. So long as your plan addresses them all, your business systems should be ready to face any outage.

To learn more about cloud backup and how to build a disaster recovery plan that meets the needs of your business, please get in touch.

cloud backup strategy

Do you need to get physical with a cloud backup strategy?

Virtualising backup with the cloud is powerful, effective and extremely safe. But just because data is now being archived off-site does not mean that hardware can be completely removed from your backup strategy.

In fact, physical hardware may still have an extremely important role to play in your cloud backup strategy.

1. Export by hard drive

The initial speed of a cloud backup may take weeks to complete as you transfer terabytes of data offsite. The actual time taken will depend on network and broadband speeds. Without careful traffic management, the uploads may negatively impact day-to-day operations too.

The process can be accelerated by shipping physical drives to the backup provider so that the data can be copied locally. This will be exponentially quicker – and arguably more secure – than trying to upload over the internet.

2. Restore by hard drive

Restoring from cloud archives is just as important – and fraught with the same difficulties. Speed of recovery will be limited by available internet bandwidth and download speeds.

For downloads that can be sized in gigabytes, online recovery will probably be acceptable. But for a disaster recovery scenario which involves a large amount of data, the speed of transfer is critical.

In the same way that physical hard drives can accelerate seeding of backups, they can also be employed to speed up recovery. If you plan to make cloud backup your principal method of data recovery, check to see if your service has the option of shipping physical disks.

3. Cloud as backup

The issue of time to recovery is of critical importance. Knowing that a complete dataset may take days to recover from the internet, it may be that the cloud is best deployed as a secondary backup.

In this scenario, your existing systems provide real-time services for instant recovery, while periodic (daily / weekly / monthly) backups are replicated to the cloud. Maintaining physical backups on-site minimises time to recovery, while off-site backups help to maintain the integrity and ensure that data is always recoverable.

4. Local servers for recovery testing

You know that your data is always protected when using cloud backup services – but how do you go about recovering it? Keeping spare physical servers will allow you to test your recovery protocols and ensure that they deliver against business needs.

For best results, keep at least one example of each bare metal server to ensure everything works correctly.

5. Physical recovery documentation

Modern business is driven by digital data – but there will always be a place for hard copy records in certain circumstances. In the case of disaster recovery, you must maintain physical, off-line copies of the information required to brings systems back online.

Records must include the recovery action plan, applications and serial numbers. And don’t forget to include contact details for the individual who holds the administrative passwords required for recovery and reconfiguration.

The future is hybrid

Until available bandwidth increases exponentially, there will always be a place for physical assets in your backup regime. The trick is knowing where to divide the load between local and cloud.

WTL offer a range of cloud based solutions. that can extend the rigour of your on-premise backup without without compromising control, visibility, or auditability.

For more assistance in defining a cloud backup strategy that delivers the reliability, speed and security your business demands, please give us a call.

Moving to the Cloud

The Less Scary Road to the Moving to the Cloud

Cloud adoption is set to become a computing norm – even for companies that have until now rejected these technologies. But as hosted software (G Suite, Office 365, etc) gather pace, most have been unable to completely avoid cloud services.

Much of the discussion around cloud migration suggests that it is a ‘big bang’, all-or-nothing play, with the whole data centre being shifted to the cloud. Although possible (in theory) not all workloads belong in the cloud.

Cloud migration doesn’t have to be ‘big bang’

Many cloud operators give the impression that adoption is not only inevitable but that all of your systems will eventually be hosted. And the sooner this transition takes place, the better.

The reality is that this is your business and your infrastructure, and you are fully justified in moving at your own pace. For various reasons (unfamiliarity, security concerns, uncertainty etc) you have resisted major cloud adoption projects – so it makes sense to maintain a cautious roll-out.

Cloud migration on your terms

One way to maintain control of the process and the speed at which you move is to bring cloud technologies into your data centre first. Using platforms like VMware vCloud Suite, Microsoft Hyper-V virtualisation or OpenStack.

Deploying a private cloud allows your business to migrate applications and workloads, learning how the concepts and technologies apply to your business. At the same time, you can take advantage of automation and self-service to accelerate your IT operations to deliver a better quality of service to your in-house users.

This approach can be more expensive than going with one of the large platforms like AWS, Azure or Google Cloud. With cloud in-house, however, you retain full control of the process so you can migrate applications and servers at your own pace. This makes the transition more manageable and lays the groundwork for when you do decide to migrate to a lower-cost public cloud provider.

Re-engineering workloads for the cloud

One of the key benefits of cloud platforms is their elastic pricing model – you only pay for what you use. However, simply moving your virtual servers into the cloud is not efficient.

Your on-premise systems are configured to run 24x7x365 because there is no reason to let them spin down. But in the cloud where every resource is billable – CPU cycles, RAM, storage etc – you pay for running servers, even when they are not being accessed.

The major cloud platforms allow you to set servers to spin down automatically overnight for instance, helping to reduce costs. However, these servers are themselves considered relatively heavyweight.

The future of operating in the cloud lies in containerisation. This technology breaks applications into blocks that can be created and destroyed automatically according to demand. Unlike a virtual server, the container is a much smaller package, containing nothing but your application code and the libraries required to run it; there is no operating system or additional applications, helping to minimise the number of resources used – and therefore costs.

With a private cloud, you can begin the process of re-engineering and optimising for the cloud before moving to a public cloud platform. This will help to contain costs when you do finally migrate and simplify the process of transition.

To learn more about the moving to the cloud and how to simplify the transition to the cloud, please get in touch.

Cloud Partner

How to choose a cloud partner – 13 factors to consider

If the cloud is an integral part of your IT strategy, choosing the right cloud partner is one of the most important decisions you must make. Here are 13 factors to consider that will help you chose a cloud partner that is right for your business.

1. Technology stack

To contain costs, maximise ROI and accelerate deployment, you want a provider whose technology stack is compatible with your own. As well as using the same hypervisor technology, their hardware and connectivity needs to be reliable, fast and resilient. The platform must outperform your own.

2. Public or Private

Public cloud platforms offer multi-tenancy solutions to share resources and contain costs. Private cloud offers dedicated infrastructure for each client. Although carefully configured to prevent data passing between tenants’ instances, public cloud may not be suitable for your most sensitive workloads. Make sure any prospective supplier offers the right cloud formats for your workloads.

3. Management responsibilities

Maintaining the underlying infrastructure and connectivity is the responsibility of the provider – but what else do they offer? Can you spin up your own instances or allocate virtual resources, or is that handled by the provider too? Understanding these responsibilities will also help to understand the ongoing costs and staffing requirements.

4. Infrastructure transparency

By ceding control of the underlying infrastructure, cloud services do not offer the same degree of visibility as your on-premise data centre. Make sure that you understand the tools required to deliver business value and whether they can be used on the platform being evaluated – or if the provider offers an equivalent toolset.

5. The route to the cloud

There are many routes to the cloud – you need to pick the option that balances speed, future-readiness and cost. You need to understand the data and workloads that need to be migrated, and how it will be moved. Does the provider offer a managed migration service to help plug skills and knowledge gaps within your own team?

6. Third-party networking support

Pure cloud deployments are extremely rare – you will probably continue to run at least some of your operations in-house. You need to understand whether the provider offers support for the third party network technologies that connect on-premise with the cloud, and to what degree. Will your provider assume all the risk, some, or none at all?

7. Physical hosting options

If you operate any form of hosted infrastructure or co-located systems, it makes sense to consolidate them where possible. If your processes require physical hardware of any kind, you need to know if your partner is willing to host it.

8. Automating the cloud

Your on-premise systems use automation to streamline processes and reduce manual workload – are there similar options available in the cloud too? What are your options for automation and reporting? Is there an API available allowing you to connect third-party tools – or to develop your own?

9.  Disaster recovery provisions

Cloud platforms are resilient by design – but the risk of data loss remains. How is your data protected at the virtual and infrastructure levels? Can you configure and control backup frequencies? And importantly, how is data recovered when required? Does the provider offer disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS) and what are their SLAs?

10. Cloud failover mechanisms

Cloud outages are rare, but the risk of ransomware infection, accidental deletion and data corruption are almost as common as in your on-premise data centre. User error is still a threat wherever your systems are hosted. Your ideal provider needs to provide a way to recover data and operations within minutes – including cloud-to-cloud fail-over if there is a significant ransomware/data corruption event.

11. Compliance and security

Your business has a legal duty to protect data from loss or theft – and to ensure it is stored securely in an approved territory (normally the UK and EU). As you assess the various options available you need to know how responsibility is divided between parties, the tools and services (if any) that are available to maintain compliance and the physical location of your data to ensure it is not being stored illegally.

12. Technical support provisions

The provider’s technical support offering takes on additional importance when you have outsourced key elements of your IT estate. You need to be sure about the level of service you will receive, including how issues are reported, investigated and resolved. You must also ascertain what the service level parameters are to ensure you have the level of coverage appropriate to your workloads.

13. How to track costs

The pay-as-you-use cloud computing model ensures that you never invest in over-capacity for your on-premise data centre. But it also makes budget over-spend far easier, particularly given the complexities of some cloud billing models. Your ideal provider will have transparent pricing, cost models and tools that allow you to track your spend and balance resource requirements with budget constraints.

Every factor is important

13 factors might seem like a lot – but every one of them is important to consider when chosing a cloud partner. After all, this is a strategic partnership that should last years. The time and effort invested in conducting this due diligence will help to smooth your cloud adoption projects – and ensure you get exactly what you need to grow your business.

To learn more about the WTL offering and how we can help you build a flexible, future-ready platform in the cloud, please get in touch.