October 23, 2014

Live DR Replicas On-Demand

Ideas in IT come in waves, and recently I’ve been hearing about a great capability: On-demand live replicas of production virtual machines. Want to test your DR environment? Spin up a live sandbox in the cloud or at a service provider using VMware ESX. And if there’s a real disaster, you can always run there for real!

Thanks to data replication, server virtualization, and cloud computing, it’s possible for anyone to have an on-demand sandbox!

VM-Enabled DR

Disaster recovery (DR to us IT folks) is incredibly hard to get working. So hard that I’ve often referred to the regular and predictable failure of DR tests as IT’s “dirty little secret” – we all know traditional tape recovery doesn’t work but no one wants to tell management they won’t have their systems for weeks in the event of a disaster! Backups on tape just aren’t a DR solution.

Traditionally, the only way to really build a DR system that worked was to invest in an active site concept, where the remote DR systems were always up and running, re-stocked with fresh data thanks to replication software. Some companies even went to the next level, building an active-active system where neither the “local” nor “remote” sites were truly the master and rotating between them periodically. Now that’s a DR setup!

But server virtualization offered a new prospect: Truly mobile systems that could run on disparate hardware locally and remotely. We began to see companies building truly-functional virtualized DR using data replication software from companies like Zerto, Falconstor, Veeam, Double-Take, and so on. Even the big guys got in on the act, with VMware, EMC, Hitachi, NetApp, and the rest offering array-based VMware-aware replication capabilities.

The combination of VM-enabled “go anywhere” servers and replication software was unbeatable and finally offers a real, functional DR option. Anyone relying on backup tapes for DR is, to be perfectly clear, acting imprudently.

Now Add Cloud Computing

But what of the cloud? It’s now possible to have on-demand virtual machines, thanks to infrastructure as a service (“IaaS”, which sounds like a movie alien). Stir in some data replication and cloud storage and suddenly you have an exciting new option: On-demand DR!

Considering how many companies are moving to cloud-based data replication, this seems like a slam dunk. Rather than “just” storing your data with a service provider, you can optionally bring up virtual machines there for testing or real disaster recovery!

These systems work similarly to Veeam’s Instant VM Recovery, in that they “reconstitute” a virtual machine’s image at a remote site and enable an administrator to start it up on demand. TwinStrata recently briefed me on their newfound ability to replicate and store consistent VM images in the cloud for DR purposes. And now Permabit’s new Replication feature gives OEMs and service providers a similar capability.

This isn’t technical wizardry. It’s more that these companies took a look at what they have (a consistent virtual machine disk image) and decided to put it to productive use. Now that live on-demand DR replicas are “a thing” I expect many other companies to jump on the bandwagon. Many probably already have, though I am unaware of them!

Stephen’s Stance

Anything that gives companies a hope of real, functional DR is a great innovation. Combining data replication, cloud computing, and server virtualization is a great mix in my book. Three cheers for live, on-demand DR replicas!

Note: I’m sure other companies are doing this, too. Please feel free to leave a brief comment with a pointer to your solution.

Sandbox Setup” photo by Clover_1 (CCbyNC)