It can determine whether your business survives or dies following IT downtime. Given that nearly half of us are paying £152,000 a year too much on IT downtime*, there’s still a lot of room for improvement in our business continuity solutions. So how should you decide what solution to go for?
There are 3 main categories under the umbrella term of “business continuity solution” – backup, disaster recovery and business continuity. How do you know which one is right for your business?
Backup – copies of your data are taken and stored – ideally offsite in a virtual environment. Your data can be copied as often as every 15 minutes so should you need to restore your data, very recent data is available to you quickly. The advantage of a backup solution is that it is very cost effective, with low monthly costs and can be tailored to your recovery point objective (RPO). The main disadvantage is the recovery time. Companies will talk about high availability; however what they really mean by this is that they can provide you with your data very quickly. Until you have built a new IT infrastructure, your backup data can’t be utilised. Recovery times are the longest of the options as the IT infrastructure is built, ironing out errors and configuring software. The backup solution is therefore suitable for you if you have a restricted budget, want to keep your RPO low but are able to run your business without IT systems for typically 1 to 10 days and not feel the impact.
Disaster Recovery – copies of your data are stored –ideally offsite in a virtual environment, as per the backup. The difference with disaster recovery is that should you experience an IT disaster, your working IT systems will be recovered for you to ensure that IT downtime is reduced. How this happens varies from company to company and therefore RTO’s and RPO’s can be very different depending on supplier and strategy.
a) Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS) is growing in popularity and involves outsourcing your disaster recovery. Some DRaaS providers will effectively run a backup solution and then work to rebuild your IT system from the ground up if you have an IT disaster, whereas others will take snapshot images of your data and automate the recovery of your IT systems in a virtual environment every night just in case you need them (called Pre-recovery). A bit more expensive than backup, disaster recovery as a service companies offer the financial benefit of monthly fees, and near instant, guaranteed RTO and RPO’s.
b) Disaster Recovery can also be handled in-house, which normally either entails a backup solution with a plan to rebuild the IT systems, or a more advanced server replication/mirroring solution. Enterprise companies who can’t afford to have any IT downtime or lose any data will opt for a synchronous mirroring solution. This is the best solution available with zero RTO and RPO times, maximum protection against IT downtime and minimum business risk, however it is very costly both to implement and maintain which is often prohibitive to most businesses. Hot and warm standby methods don’t offer any advantages in RPO and RTO over most DRaaS solutions today yet still carry a high capital expenditure which typically means they are becoming redundant.
Disaster Recovery costs range from monthly budget slightly higher than backup solutions to the more expensive capital investment and ongoing maintenance costs of server replication. Automation and cloud technologies has enabled better functionality at lower costs, especially with Pre-recovery where your IT systems are recovered in advance every 24 hours so they are guaranteed to work. The disadvantage of disaster recovery is that you would need to have a workplace solution in place (i.e. a plan for where your employees will work from and how they will gain access to the internet to revert to business as usual). If your employees all have access to the internet and you want to minimise your IT downtime then disaster recovery is your best option. It’s then just a question of comparing costs, RTO’s, RPO’s and how much time you need to spend managing it, to find the solution that fits your needs.
Business Continuity – this is really disaster recovery with the added benefit of a workplace continuity solution included. There is more to consider when choosing business continuity suppliers as you will need to decide on which disaster recovery solution suits your RTO and RPO needs and then try to marry that with a suitable workplace continuity solution. If you outsource your business continuity, everything is handled by a single supplier and you have peace of mind that productivity will resume quickly. You may find that you need to compromise on the disaster recovery service (RTO and RPO) as some of the better DRaaS companies don’t offer workplace solutions. That being said, most DRaaS companies will provide a workplace solution if asked to win your business. If your key priority is to regain business productivity without any hassle then a business continuity solution is right for you. You’ll pay a bit more for receiving the whole package but one call is all you need to make in an IT disaster.
Mix and match
Finally, it is often beneficial to break down your IT estate and look at where your most critical services lie. Business critical servers may require a highly reliable and responsive disaster recovery solution, whereas backup could suffice for your developmental servers. This is common practice for companies with over 5 servers as they have different dependencies on their different IT systems. Don’t be afraid to use different strategies and mix and match them for your needs as that’s the trick to reducing your £152,000 overspend on IT downtime.
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By Tim Dunger