In-Depth

The Rise of Disaster Recovery as a Service

Microsoft has made a big bet this year that DRaaS will be a killer application for its Cloud OS and Azure service. Numerous players are making similar gambits.

In today's new age of "always-on" business, prolonged downtime or even brief outages are no longer acceptable. Whether it's at a global enterprise with thousands of employees, a 200-person organization or even a small office, all are expected to have their core information systems up and running all the time. Providing the ability to recover from downtime -- scheduled or unplanned -- is becoming easier and more affordable thanks to a growing number of emerging enterprise-grade cloud-based Disaster Recovery-as-a-Service (DRaaS) options.

Many such DRaaS offerings, where organizations replicate snapshots of their data, system settings and applications to either a local or major cloud provider or dedicated hosting operator, have been around for some time from specialists such as SunGard or Verizon Communications and a variety of high-end solutions. But over the past year, the sheer number and scope of options has started to amass, and many more are building out cloud-based disaster recovery service operations with varying types of capabilities, architectures and costs.

In 2014 Microsoft made a huge splash launching an extensive new portfolio of cloud-based disaster recovery options, recognizing and emphasizing disaster recovery as a key driver for its hybrid and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) offerings. The Microsoft disaster recovery thrust came on the heels of last year's release of Windows Server 2012 R2, which included the second version of Hyper-V Replica, providing point-to-point replication of Hyper-V virtual machines (VMs) via either a LAN or WAN connection (see "Hyper-V Replica for Disaster Recovery").

Building on that, Microsoft this year made it possible to use its Microsoft Azure cloud in lieu of a secondary datacenter for disaster recovery. At the core is Azure Site Recovery, which Microsoft announced in May at its TechEd conference in Houston. Azure Site Recovery, which became generally available in October (see "First Look: Azure Site Recovery"), is a service enabling the replication of VMs between two datacenters or from an organization's site to Azure datacenters. The service, which unlike Hyper-V Replica also supports VMware VMs and Linux servers, offers automated protection of VMs, which Microsoft backs with a service-level agreement.

The July acquisition of InMage gave Microsoft an on-premises appliance that offers real-time data capture on a continuous basis, which simultaneously performs local backups or remote replication via a single data stream. Microsoft is licensing Azure Site Recovery with the Scout technology on a per-virtual or per-physical instance basis.

At its recent TechEd conference in Barcelona, Microsoft introduced some additional capabilities including support for its Azure Automation, a runbook automation service now in preview that lets customers automate Azure Site Recovery through planned support for Windows PowerShell scripting. Microsoft sees DRaaS as a key steppingstone to offering IaaS. DRaaS especially has appeal to customers because it delivers what for many is a much-needed capability that can be out of reach, and certainly far less expensive for those using second­ary datacenters or operating co-location facilities.

Extending Azure Disaster Recovery via Cloud OS
In the same way Office 365 might not suffice for all Exchange and SharePoint users, Microsoft realizes its own Azure service won't cut it for all seeking DRaaS, either, especially those with data sovereignty requirements. As such, many Microsoft managed services and cloud hosting partners are delivering DRaaS, while some are building up to that point. One such partner is Peak 10 Inc., a hosting and managed services provider with 25 datacenters in 10 markets, whose clients include Chiquita Brands, Magazines.com, Meineke, Pergo and the PGA of America. A longtime Microsoft partner, the Charlotte, N.C.-based company has seen significant growth in its DRaaS offering this year, says Monty Blight, a vice president at Peak 10.

"Where we see people using Disaster Recovery as a Service from us are those who need a recovery time objective [RTO] or a recovery point objective [RPO] that's measured in minutes, rather than hours or days," Blight says. "The big key component of that is the replication piece between the two."

Of course, not all organizations need, or can justify the cost, of the RTOs and RPOs of mere minutes and most commonly, it depends on the application and business function. "Where this allows the customer to have private cloud, as well as data backup to a second site, it also means you look at integrating that file-level restore, which we do for Microsoft servers all day long," Blight says. "So it integrates in with our existing backup and restore and [DRaaS] option, but also specifically on the Cloud OS it gives them a second site to ensure their data is there."

DRaaS Considerations
Indeed, while Microsoft and all of its rivals including Amazon Web Services Inc. (AWS) and VMware Inc., as well as thousands of local and regional managed services providers and hosting operators have similar designs on DRaaS. Whether or not you use all or part of the Microsoft DRaaS or Cloud OS stack, customers have no shortage of options. At the same time, not all are created equal and IT architects need to consider numerous scenarios, requirements and capabilities, warns Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Jason Buffington.

"Providers and IT decision makers need to beware of over promising on what disaster recovery means," Buffington says. "Real disaster recovery -- even in the cloud -- still means I've got to have orchestration, I've got to build a sandbox so I can do testing, it means I've got to be able to define policies, so the right [VMs] come up in the right order. Based on priority and based on dependencies of those VMs, there's a lot more to it than, ‘I'm going to make a copy of my VMs and put them someplace else and when something bad happens I'm going to turn them on.'"

Among those large enterprises using Hyper-V Relica to connect to secondary datacenters and the Azure cloud is ABM Industries Inc., the largest United States provider of facility management services ranging from HVAC repair, security and landscape maintenance with 100,000 employees and nearly $5 billion in annual revenues. Andre Garcia, ABM's assistant vice president of global technology, referred to the disaster recovery scenario during a panel session on Hyper-V migration at the August TechMentor Redmond conference, which, like Redmond magazine is produced by 1105 Media Inc.

"Hyper-V Replica is just a feature of Hyper-V that's on by default -- you just have to right-click and tell VMM [Virtual Machine Manager] what the target is for that source," Garcia said during the panel discussion. "It's a phenomenal capability," added panel participant Matt McSpirit, a Microsoft technical product manager focused on Hyper-V. "It has enabled organizations to replicate changes up to every five minutes, between Site A and B. It's well-received, with a PowerShell layer for automating it."

One shortcoming of Hyper-V Replica is that it's synchronous. Microsoft has said it's developing an answer to that with a new tool called Storage Replica (see more).

Alternative Services Emerge
Yet numerous other software and services providers -- many point out they're Microsoft partners -- say organizations need better automation and replications than Hyper-V replica can offer. Many of them point to better recovery times, links to multiple clouds and faster continuous data protection (CDP), compression and data deduplication algorithms. Most dismiss Microsoft Hyper-V Replica as a suitable base-level replication mechanism for creating Windows Server Hyper-V clusters, but not sufficient for providing complete DRaaS.

"Where we see people using Disaster Recovery as a Service from us are those who need a recovery time objective or a recovery point objective that's measured in minutes, rather than hours or days."

Monty Blight, Vice President, Peak 10 Inc.

There's no shortage of those who have stepped up their DRaaS offerings and market presence this year. Among them in various stated of delivering new DRaaS capabilities are Acronis International GmbH, ArcServe (spun off from CA Technologies), Asigra Inc., Axcient Inc., Dell Inc. (AppAssure), Hewlett-Packard Co. (via its Helion cloud platform), Nasuni Corp., Symantec Corp., Vision Solutions Inc., Unitrends, Veeam Software and Zerto, while CommVault is said to have new DRaaS capabilities in the works.

"Hyper-V Replica definitely has a place for the lower tier workloads," says Tim Laplante, a senior product director at Vision Solutions Inc., supplier of DoubleTake. "But where you need true high availability or you need to replicate it to something other than Hyper-V, you're going to need a solution like ours, where you need the real time and the flexibility from a target perspective."

Laplante points to Peak 10 as a provider that subscribes to that model. Peak 10's Blight says while using Hyper-V Replica is suitable in certain scenarios is suitable, in others he sees the need for third-party solutions, notably Double Take and Zerto.

"The customer who needs DoubleTake requires real-time replication," Blight says. In cases where CDP is necessary, Peak 10 has also been working with Zerto, whose namesake software has long-offered that capability for VMware environments and last month gained Hyper-V support.

Many providers of backup software are making big pushes into DRaaS. Veeam, the rapidly growing provider of VM backup and disaster recovery software for midsize organizations, in October kicked off a major push into DRaaS, adding a component to its newly branded suite called Veeam Backup and Replication v8. A key new component in its new release, Cloud Connect, offers an interface that lets users search a network of partner cloud providers and MSPs. The initial Cloud Connect supports just backup and recovery. Next year providers will also be able to deliver DRaaS using Cloud Connect.

"We believe that next year will be the year where disaster in the cloud will start to become mainstream," says Veeam CEO Ratmir Timashev, "and we will be one of the driving forces for that, because we have a better license base and we provide this very easy out-of-the-box experience for end customers and for our service providers."

The MSP Azure Connection
Veeam is also enabling its MSP partners to use the back-end services of Azure. The company has made Cloud Connect available in the new Azure Marketplace. "Veeam cloud providers who want to offer Veeam Cloud Connect [can] leverage Azure to provide the under­lying core infrastructure -- network, compute and storage in the form of VMs,"says Rick Vanover, a Veeam product strategy specialist. Selecting the Veeam Cloud Connect option in the [Azure] Marketplace will let that Veeam partner run the Cloud Connect infrastructure in Azure."

Unlike Veeam, Unitrends operates its own cloud and argues it offers higher service levels than what's available by larger cloud services like Amazon EC2/S3 and Azure. In addition to integrating its on-premises appliance with its cloud, Unitrends offers its own DRaaS and touts a tool called Reliable DR, which offers governance and compliance auditing. The company says its DRaaS has grown 180 percent this year to hundreds of customers. "They have the advantage of our software to build out similar services that we have," says Subo Guha, Unitrends vice president of product management. Unitrends is still considering whether to forge ties with Azure, Amazon or another major cloud network.

Not all DRaaS providers see the benefits of using a larger cloud provider. "Public clouds are generally not purpose built, so they're good at many things, not great at any one application layer," says Justin Moore, CEO of Axcient, which provides a turnkey replication appliance and runs its own multi-petabyte cloud for DRaaS. "If you think of disaster recovery as a service, it's more of an application layer offering than it is an infrastructure."

The City of Williamsburg in Virginia is among those who have deployed a DRaaS solution using the Axcient service, where it backs up 10TB of data including its Novell GroupWise server, SQL Server databases and file systems, all running on 22 servers tied to VMware-based VMs. The replication is performed overnight, meaning in a worst-case scenario, the city's data would be 24 hours old. "We're pretty small so that's a pretty good recovery time objective," says the city's IT manager Mark Barham. "I could knock it down to 30 minutes if I wanted to."

The Outdoor Group LLC, which supplies sporting goods gear -- mainly high-end archery equipment -- has started using the Veeam Cloud Connect tool through DR provider Offsite Data Sync to replicate its Exchange e-mail system, SQL Server databases, and various application servers. "If we lose that information we're basically starting over from scratch," says IT Director Jim Klossner.

TBG Partners, a landscape architecture firm uses Nasuni's replication service. With the Nasuni appliances, CTO Greg Nichols says his company can replicate large CAD files that could be gigabytes in size each. Nasuni offers customers a choice of AWS or Azure to host their backed-up data. Nichols says data is backed up more frequently for the firm's architects. "Having it backed up every five minutes is great for our users, because they literally don't lose anything," he says.

Buyer Beware
Gartner Inc. analyst Pushan Rinnen warns customers that Backup as a Service shouldn't be confused with DRaaS, even as many of the same companies offer both. "Disaster recovery involves not just the bits of the data, a copy of the storage part, but a lot of the business processes in the servers, applications and the consistency of the data," she says. "It's a lot more complex than backup."

If you're not using DRaaS yet, you're not alone. Many of these services are in their evolutionary state, Rinnen says. "We are definitely seeing more implementations of Disaster Recovery as a Service," she says. "But we're still very early at the beginning stage

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