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New York Data Recovery > About Us > Data Recovery Articles & Resources

Data Disaster Planning & Your Bottom Line

Sometimes, a day can seem like a lifetime.

When critical business data is lost, every minute that goes by means missing information, lost opportunities, and perhaps even the closing of a successful institution or department. Whatever the cause of the data loss - disk crash, power outage, virus, or even accidental deletion - the usual result is that gigabytes of files and weeks, or even months, of work are lost.

The primary key to ensuring ongoing survival in the face of data loss is the development and implementation of an appropriate business continuity plan. The second key is the employment of the requisite technology.

A business continuity plan documents which organizational functions are critical, what steps are necessary to survive without them, and what resources are available to help recover lost or damaged systems. Without a suitable continuity plan, data loss might be irrevocable. In a world that's defined by access to data, irreversible data loss is simply unacceptable.

In an increasingly volatile environment, institutions that want to stay efficient can't afford to have their systems down for even a short period of time. A recent report by Gartner Group Inc. says organizations will need to reduce the time it takes to recover critical processes and application systems to 24 hours by 2003. Even non-critical systems, the report says, will need to be back up in four days.

It's a simple choice, really. You can back up your hard disk or risk losing your data, your setup, and your applications. Whatever method you choose, it's important that you put a business continuity plan in place and use it.

It's a fact that continuity planning can itself be an onerous task, requiring extensive thought and comprehensive implementation. Each plan must be designed to meet the particular needs and requirements of the institution.

The first step in protecting information assets is to identify the organization's most important assets and information. During this phase of planning, threats and vulnerabilities are identified, solutions are proposed and refined, corporate policies are clarified, roles and responsibilities are assigned, and standards and training are developed.

The second step is the creation of a security plan, with its own procedures, budget, and implementation timetable. Once those steps are complete, new architecture can be rolled out and new procedures put in place. The new system should then be tested from the outside for any remaining weak points. Finally, security should be audited on a regular basis to keep pace with both internal changes and evolving external threats.

Such a continuity plan provides the map, but it remains for each organization to actually make the security journey. Senior management must support the project and demonstrate their involvement. Business and technical experts must be involved on an ongoing basis. Individual business units within the organization must take responsibility for their own security assessments.

Behind the business continuity plan, of course, lies the strength of appropriate technology. If protecting the organization's data is the fundamental priority, suitable backup technologies must be put in place.

Uninterrupted availability is most commonly achieved by the presence of redundant design, clustering, and fail-over with software and firmware support. The bottom line is that IT managers must ensure that all critical components are duplicated, so that system and application availability is maintained in the event of any single component failure.

For a speedy end to system downtime, and to facilitate resumption of business in the face of disaster, the most common facility is the use of remote data mirroring. This means that an exact copy of the business' production data is maintained in a remote site. Should a failure or disaster occur in the original production site, remote mirroring can be used to restart the system and applications within the remote site.

Remote data mirroring can take one of two forms - physical mirroring, based on a replication of the original site's hardware, and logical mirroring, based on a replication of the original system's file structure. Each has its own advantages and benefits, and each will be chosen according to the specific needs of the user.

Physical mirroring will be the appropriate choice when performance, data currency, and ease of management are most important factors for the user. This is because physical mirroring's use of a disk-based system does not consume host system CPUs, requires that only a single I/O be issued for the mirroring operation, allows software mirroring independent of disk technology, and may improve read performance with multiple read devices.

Logical mirroring, on the other hand, will be the more appropriate choice when transactional consistency is a more important factor. Within a logical mirroring solution, remote data corruption is less likely to occur, resynchronization will usually require manual intervention, transactions - and not data blocks - will be mirrored, and the result is slightly lower performance than with a physical mirroring solution.

When considering the choice of a remote mirroring solution, a number of questions need to be answered, so that the results obtained will fit the needs of the organization in the most suitable manner.

Will the mirroring operation be synchronous or asynchronous? How important is data currency in the backup and restore functions? What is the system's (and the organization's) tolerances to some measure of data loss? Should the solution have the ability to maintain changed data information if second fault event occurs? How can the recoverability of data at the remote location be guaranteed?

If the ongoing availability of data is the key to business survival, a remote mirroring solution - whether it is based on a physical or logical system - can literally be the guarantee that essential information can be accessed when needed. Similarly, data replication technologies can provide businesses with guarantees that data is mirrored to a remote site in the event of a site failure. Such technologies replicates, or shadows, the organization's data in real time, and writes the data to alternative sites or systems via a network.

Storage over IP (SoIP) offers another way of ensuring data security. SoIP sends block-level data over an IP network, enabling servers to connect to SCSI storage devices and treat them as if they were directly attached to the server, regardless of their location. It optimizes the organization's ability to enable remote data backup, tape vaulting, and remote disk mirroring. SoIP comes in two flavors, storage tunneling and native IP-based storage, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.

Storage tunneling provides a dedicated, point-to-point link between two SANs via encapsulated Fibre Channel SAN frames in IP packets across an IP network. Storage tunneling generally makes use of existing metropolitan area networks and wide area networks. However, storage tunneling lacks the ability to make full use of standard IP network management and control tools, such as directory services, traffic management, and quality of service.

Native IP-Based storage integrates existing storage protocols with the IP protocol, so that storage traffic can be managed with existing software applications and tools for bandwidth provisioning, traffic management, and overall network management. Native IP-based storage devices allow data to be stored and accessed anywhere the network will reach.

Data snapshots, another technology for ensuring redundancy, are read-only views of the file system. After a snapshot has been taken, changes to files are reflected in updates to the current set of pointers. In basic terms, snapshots take a picture of what the system data looks like, then, as changes are made, makes snapshots of only those changes. The use of data snapshot technology can help organizations minimize costs, because they take up very little disk space and can be sent to remote sites for disaster recovery, thus reducing the need for redundant storage.

In a business environment that's increasingly characterized by globalization, the Internet, and vulnerability to intrusion, solid continuity planning - and the attendant appropriate technology - has become a critical element in business organizations at all levels. The threat of data loss, together with its disagreeable consequences, is, after all, an ever-present danger for everyone.

Darryl Peddle
Business Development
New York Data Recovery

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