Ensuring business continuity in the face of a man-made or natural disaster may seem like a daunting task. Luckily, today’s cloud-based computing platforms such as Amazon Web Services are particularly well suited to meet the disaster recovery planning needs of most businesses. However, the versatile, decentralized nature of the cloud is wasted in the absence of a proper, well tested DR plan and the ability to adapt to changing often unforeseen circumstances. So in the following article, we’ll take a look at some best practices for utilizing AWS cloud to develop your own DR plan in order to help maintain business continuity during a disaster situation.
Understanding the difference between backups and disaster recovery
When it comes to disaster recovery, having recent backups of your company’s data is essential. But it’s important to understand that simply scheduling regular backups of your data stored on Amazon EC2 and the attached EBS volumes is not enough. It’s simply one part of a much larger process. After all, what good is your backup data if you have no means to access it when it’s urgently needed?
If and when a disaster strikes, you need a well-tested disaster recovery process in place to quickly access and restore your company’s backup data from your AWS cloud environment. Otherwise, you might as well not bother with any backups at all.
Identifying critical data and utilizing cross-region backups
As we mentioned above, and in previous blogs, taking regular backups of your Amazon EC2 resources should be a crucial component of your disaster recovery planning. But as with most things in the fast-moving world of cloud computing, there is always a trade-off between time and money. That’s why it is extremely important to identify your mission-critical data and applications when creating a backup strategy as part of your overall DR plan, and choosing how your data will be stored (snapshots, AMIs, etc.). This option varies depending on the needs of your business.
While choosing what data to prioritize and how it will be stored is critical, choosing where this data is to be stored is equally important. Storing your backups in close geographic proximity to your primary production environment defeats the entire purpose since there’s a chance a large-scale disaster would knock everything offline, leaving you with zero options. To better protect your data, it’s essential to embrace the global reach of AWS with the various geographic regions and availability zones around the world, so make sure your backups are being kept in multiple locations to be prepared for the worst.
Determine your specific RTO and RPO
It’s also of vital importance to determine your company’s recovery time objective (RTO) as well as its recovery point objective (RPO). Your RTO is the maximum length of time the disaster recovery process can take without inflicting unacceptable monetary losses on your organization’s bottom line. In other words, ask yourself how long your company can be offline before it starts losing unacceptable amounts of cash and potential business.
Your RPO, on the other hand, is the maximum amount of data loss you are willing to accept as measured in time. The answer to this question determines how often you are willing to pay for backups. For example, if the idea of losing four hours of data due to a disaster gives you a panic attack, you need an RPO of less than four hours (perhaps much less). But if losing four hours worth of data isn’t the end of the world, an RPO of four hours or more might be a good fit. Basically, it’s up to you to run some numbers and see what makes the most sense for your organization.
Choosing your disaster recovery planning method
So, now that you’ve determined the specific disaster recovery needs of your organization, it’s time to decide which specific DR recovery method makes the most sense for you. While there are many options depending on your preference for saving time or money, here are some of the most common methods listed.
- Backup and Restore: a simple, straightforward, cost-effective method that backs up and restores data as needed. Keep in mind that because none of your data is on standby, this method, while cheap, can be quite time-consuming.
- Pilot Light: This method keeps critical applications and data at the ready so that it can be quickly retrieved if needed.
- Warm Standby: This method keeps a duplicate version of your business’ core elements running on standby at all times, which makes for a little downtime and an almost seamless transition.
- Multi-Site Solution: Also known as a Hot Standby, this method fully replicates your company’s data/applications between two or more active locations and splits your traffic/usage between them. If a disaster strikes, everything is simply rerouted to the unaffected area, which means you’ll suffer almost zero downtime. However, by running two separate environments simultaneously, you will obviously incur much higher costs.
Image Source: Amazon Web Services
In the end, even the best DR plans may run into trouble when faced with the unforeseen problems of the real world. So once you’ve settled on a disaster recovery method and have everything up and running, it’s extremely important to test its effectiveness. Fortunately, the fact that cloud platforms allow users to create duplicate production environments means testing your DR plan against various scenarios has never been easier. The more you test and retest your DR plan, the better prepared you’ll be in the event of an actual crisis. Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Consider the benefits of disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS)
While disaster recovery planning is often handled in-house, more and more businesses are turning to third parties to implement and maintain their DR plans. Just as insurance policies allow businesses to mitigate the risk of property damage and financial loss, treating disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS) allows companies to focus on core issues while at the same time having the peace of mind of knowing their data is safe. So it’s no surprise that surveys have shown IT professionals who utilize DRaaS are significantly more confident about their company’s disaster recovery planning than those who do not. And while utilizing a third-party vendor for DRaaS might not make sense for all businesses, it’s certainly an option worth exploring.
CloudRanger is the easy to use, enterprise-ready backup and disaster recovery platform for AWS cloud. Our easy-to-use graphical interface provides users with the ability to schedule flexible backup policies to and schedule server resources to save time and money. CloudRanger is an Amazon Web Services (AWS) Advanced Technology Partner. Clients include Rockwell Collins, Version 1, NASCAR and Warner Chappell.
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