Many businesses make the mistake of confusing “Disaster Recovery” with “off-site data backup.” Confusing the two may lead to paying a high price in the form of data loss and downtime when a disaster hits. Off-site backups are a necessary component of business continuity in the face of disaster for nearly any organization, but DR goes a step beyond – addressing service availability, not only data durability.
Off-Site Data Backup
Data backup describes the capturing of a point-in-time set of data to a local device, or to a device at another location. There are some online services that provide general data backups. Tape drives, USB drives, and network attached storage are able to save your data as well. One can typically view these backups whenever they wish, optionally restoring that data to wherever they want. Usually, the backups are taken repeatedly at regular intervals to keep up with data changes.
However, protecting your business from downtime is also very important. For example, if a critical server fails and you are running only a backup, services cannot be restored quickly. To get back up and running, the server would need replacement, data and software re-installed, and finally additional configuration applied. This could take anywhere from a few hours to a few days.
It takes a long time to restore data from off-site backups — even if employing high-throughput cloud services like AWS S3, it can still take an inordinate amount of time to copy the entire dataset over most WAN connections. Can you afford to lose days’ worth of business presence?
Backing up your data is always imperative. Therefore, the question is whether or not you need a higher form of business continuity via Disaster Recovery. Knowing if you should also utilize Disaster Recovery in addition to backups depends on the availability requirements of your business. If you need your services and business functionality up and running as quickly as possible after a significant technical failure, or need to tolerate the complete failure of a location, then you need Disaster Recovery. Disaster Recovery prevents your company from significant losses of not only data, but also downtime.
It’s difficult to describe Disaster Recovery without first defining business continuity; a collection of policies, technologies, and practices which can be applied to survive significant destruction or unavailability of resources — often addressing a geographically significant scale. Disaster Recovery focuses on the technical aspects of business continuity.
Disaster Recovery mitigates the effects of significant loss from events such as natural disaster, a power grid failure, or human error.
In 2003, a high-voltage power line in Ohio brushed against some overgrown trees and shut down. This sort of problem usually triggers an alarm, but the alarm system had failed. As system operators were trying to diagnose the problem, three other lines also brushed into trees and switched off. The nearby lines shouldering the extra burden were overtaxed and caused a cascade of failures throughout southeast Canada and eight northeastern states.
This event – concluding to be the result of human error and equipment failures – caused 50 million people to lose power for up to two days and is recorded as the largest blackout in North American history. It cost roughly $6 billion dollars in economic losses.
Although this was a rare event, and by no means the only event that could cause a loss in data, current statistics indicate a blackout of this level will occur every 25 years. Companies using DR were able to cut over services to an already-established system and use the up-to-date data that was being actively replicated at the failed site.
You can learn more about Disaster Recovery (DR) in this ten minute whiteboard explanation here:
In short, Disaster Recovery enables your team of employees to get right back to work managing your customers’ data with very little downtime. DR keeps redundant sites as up-to-date as possible with each other, yet also available in a worst-case scenario.
At some level, you need both data backup and Disaster Recovery. It’s important to understand what amount of downtime your business can tolerate. A few minutes? A few days? Are you prepared to suffer from data losses? Significant data losses happen under many different circumstances. It’s up to you to define the amount of loss you can accept in a worse-case scenario. For the applications you find most critical, it might make the most sense to hold live replicas off-site, and even have a mechanism to automatically fail-over your primary site to a secondary site to ensure continuity in the face of disaster.
Would you like to hear a more technical explanation of Disaster Recovery and High Availability? Check out LINBIT’s Disaster Recovery page or our videos and other detailed pages. We’re always happy to provide a sanity check on your DR strategy. Contact us to learn how we can help.