9 criteria for selecting a disaster recovery system

While the broader scale of disaster recovery planning includes facilities, power, cooling, communications and people, data backup remains a key ingredient.

These days, every organization is attuned to the threat of data breaches, with most if not all investing in proactive protection and reactive recovery measures to mitigate risks against data loss. But what about natural disasters?

Hurricanes, flooding, earthquakes, fires, landslides—according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2017 was the most expensive year on record for natural disasters in the U.S. The total cost in damages from 16 events was more than $300 billion, crushing the previous high of $214 billion in 2005.

Scientists are predicting that we will experience more extreme weather in the future as the climate changes and the planet heats up. And while the key focus in the aftermath of natural disasters is their impact on health, economy and the environment—which it should be—it should also prompt a refocused attention on disaster recovery.

While the broader scale of disaster recovery planning includes facilities, power, cooling, communications and people, data backup for recovery remains key to business continuity. To ensure an organization's 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.

But how does an organization decide what is the best system for them, and does the organization best prepare for such an emergency? Here is some actionable advice to ensure better protection.

Stay afloat with a business continuity plan
This all-important 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, cyberattack, earthquake or human error. When disaster strikes, it’s imperative to have a sensible, proactive plan in place to get the company back on its feet and running as soon as possible.

Archive data across all systems
With so many storage and backup solutions available today, many organizations 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 archive copy of files immediately upon creation and assign to the files a hardware-enforced retention policy that is consistent with the business goals. In this way, your 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, which is exactly what may happen in the face of a natural disaster!

When looking to invest in a stable, reliable storage archive solution, key criteria to consider include:
  • 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
  • Performance to keep up with multiple streams of data input from a variety of instruments
  • 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, with the file turned into a shortcut after a configurable period of inactivity.

Data that is properly archived also enables employees to retrieve backup information independently, without the need to rely on external expertise.

Backup for recovery
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 main reason for backup is that should data be lost, an organization has the ability to recover within a specified period of time.

The process of backing up, especially to disk, is generally highly automated once it’s been set up across applications, platforms and virtual environments. Historically, backing data up was largely the exclusive domain of tape rather than disk, however breakthroughs in disk technologies and pricing have led to very dense arrays that are power, cost and performance efficient. This has caused a shift in the primary target of a backup or recovery from a tape library to a disk library.

A good backup solution will be fast. As backups are made regularly, it’s key they can be undertaken quickly. Just as important is the ability to quickly recover and restore data that is lost, which in the face of a natural disaster minimizes the operational impact on a business.

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.

Never assume it won’t happen
It’s very natural to assume that just because something bad hasn’t happened before, it won’t in the future. But at a time when natural disasters are increasing in number and intensity, organizations of all sizes must imagine the dangers of being taken offline and be prepared—it’s not a matter of “if,” but “when.”

Proactively archiving and backing up data in accordance with a sensible, realistic business continuity plan could save you and your organization from unrecoverable data loss in the face of a natural disaster.

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