Guest Column | May 7, 2019

When It Comes To Disaster Recovery And Business Continuity, You Don't Get A Number Of ‘Takes' To Get It Right

By Rod Harrison, StorCentric, Parent Company of Nexsan & Drobo

Imaged-Based Backup And Disaster Recovery

Recently, I was cleaning out my basement and came across a box of a few of my favorite movies – on VHS. While the sentimental side of me (ok, packrat) looked for a safe spot on the shelves, my more practical side recognized that I already owned most of these in digital format. And, for the movies that I didn’t already own, I knew I could easily stream from one of the multiple services to which I subscribe, rent or buy them. Digitization has become the paradigm in the Media and Entertainment (M&E) industry. And as new and innovative techniques and technologies continue to enter the space, data storage requirements will continue to skyrocket.

In his report entitled, “Digital Storage Media and Entertainment”  Tom Coughlin, Coughlin Associates advises that from “2017 to 2023 entertainment and media digital storage TAM (without archiving and preservation) will increase by about 1.9 times from $4.5 billion to $8.5 billion.” Coughlin further estimates that from 2017 to 2023, “Overall annual storage capacity demand for non-archival applications is expected to increase by 5.2 times from 11.7 exabytes (EBs) to 60.3 EBs.”  And he estimates, digital storage capacity during this time will explode from “51.9 EB to 191.9 EB.”

Driven by the rise in cybercrime, the M&E industry has invested accordingly in proactive protection, and reactive recovery measures to mitigate risk. But what about natural disasters? German Insurance company Munich Re recently released its annual report stating the cost of natural disasters cost the world “a hefty $160 billion in 2018.” $80 billion of the total came from just the United States. This included California’s Camp Fire, which struck dangerously close to what many would consider the heart of the M&E industry.  

After a natural disaster, the primary focus is rightly on health, economy and the environment. Given recent events, it is clear that heightened attention on Disaster Recovery (DR) must be paid by those in the M&E industry. While the broader scale of DR planning includes facilities, power, cooling, communications and people, data backup for recovery remains key to business continuity. To ensure business data is safe and recoverable in the face of a natural disaster, it’s important to invest in the right strategy, protection architecture and data storage solution for the business. Here’s some actionable advice that organizations of all sizes across M&E can take to better protect themselves in the face of a natural disaster.

Plan, Plan, Plan… 

This critical first step lists all the processes that an organization needs to follow in the face of a major disruptive event, whether it be a fire, flood, cyber attack, earthquake or human error. When disaster strikes, it’s imperative to have a sensible, proactive plan in place to get the organization back on its feet and running as soon as possible. And, be sure to keep the plan updated as your environment and data rates change.

Legal Requirements Are Imperative

Corporate policies and government regulations, like the Global Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the new California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), may dictate the kind of DR solution you use, how you configure it, where the DR site is located, and how you report/substantiate it. Moreover, how, when and why you move data from one location to another, whether it is to another building or to another country, may open up an array of legal exposures.

Backup And Archive

With so many storage and backup solutions available today, many businesses can be inconsistent when it comes to protecting data. This is not unexpected – data that is backed up or archived can be stored across different types of systems and databases, particularly as the business grows and more storage is needed. The risk with this is that data that has not been protected or archived on a central secure repository, could be lost forever if a natural disaster strikes, which can have serious implications for the longevity of a business.

Many people think of ‘archive’ as something done when data is no longer of much use. A more modern archive approach is making an active archive copy of files immediately upon creation and assigning a hardware-enforced retention policy that is consistent with the business goals. In this way, critical business data is ‘born protected’ and can be referenced one file at a time, or in bulk quantities whenever needed.

Archiving data is also important for legal purposes. Many organizations are probably guilty of accidentally disposing of documents that legally they should be retaining. It’s important that an organization’s archive system not only safeguards business data, but also enables it to meet regulatory demands while ensuring data does not corrupt or worse yet, get deleted before its time. That’s certainly a risk with a natural disaster.

When looking to invest in a stable, reliable storage active archive solution, key criteria to consider include:

  • Performance to keep up with multiple streams of data input from a variety of instruments.
  • Ability to access archived data quickly by shortcuts (stubs) when it’s no longer on primary storage.
  • Replicated systems with each having an independent data protection mechanism.
  • Retention and disposition rules set easily in centralized management console.
  • Highly reliable, durable systems for extreme environments.
  • Redundant components for no single point of failure.
  • Ability to expand to hundreds or thousands of terabytes (TB) but within as little rack space as possible.
  • Easy export of one or many archived files to any UNC path – no vendor lock-in!
  • Data mover agent that ensures a copy of a file happens upon creation and the file is turned into a shortcut after a configurable period of inactivity.

Data that is appropriately archived also enables employees to retrieve information independently, without the need to rely on external expertise or tie up IT resources.

Backup For Disaster Recovery And Business Continuity

Unlike data that is archived, data that is stored in a backup comprises copies of all the current and operational files that a business is actively accessing and using. The process of backing up, especially to disk, is generally highly automated once it’s been set up across applications, platforms and virtual environments.

One usual but risky practice is to rely on remote backups for disaster recovery. Many use this approach until they do their first full-scale disaster recovery drill, or heaven forbid, face their first actual disaster. Backups are an important tool, but you have to consider the Recovery Time Objective (RTO) in a real disaster scenario where there’s the potential recover of petabytes of information and maybe even thousands of VMs that need to be brought online at the same time.

An advantage of some archive systems is they can optionally restore just the data shortcuts in the event of primary storage failure, which is extremely fast, and which allows the users to get on with their work quickly. Files can be rehydrated in the background if desired or can be allowed to repopulate naturally if and when they are used.

Think It Can’t Happen To You?

Believing that since a disaster hasn’t happened to your organization before, it isn’t likely to happen in the future, is a dangerous data protection strategy. At a time when natural disasters and cyber attacks are increasing in number and intensity, businesses of all sizes must face the fact that the dangers of being taken offline are likely not a matter of “if,” but simply a question of “when.”

Plan, Plan, Plan And Test

Unlike in the movies, you may not get a number of “takes” to get it right. A carefully planned, deployed and tested DR and business continuity strategy will save you and your organization from data loss and untold financial damage. And, for the IT professional(s) that were responsible for ensuring recoverability and business continuity in the face of a manmade or natural disaster – well you become your organization’s newest star(s)! And that my friends, is a “wrap.”

About The AuthorRod Harrison, StorCentric, Parent Company of Nexsan & Drobo

Rod Harrison is the CTO and VP of Engineering at StorCentric, Parent Company of Nexsan & Drobo. Harrison came to StorCentric via its acquisition of Drobo in 2018, where he was the CTO and had been with the company since its formation in 2005. He was part of the original BeyondRAID design team and has contributed significantly in all areas, from architectural design to coding at the deepest levels. Harrison has 30 years of operating system, embedded and RAID systems experience gained through senior engineering roles at Veritas, Sun Microsystems, Wind River, SCO, Madge Networks, and others. He has been part of several industry standards groups, including iSCSI and I2O. Harrison holds a BSc (Hons) Computer Science degree from the University of London and has authored four patents, all at Drobo. He currently lives in London, UK.