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Cloud-Based Disaster Recovery: Take a Methodical Approach

Cloud data recovery and multiple cloud usage are becoming the new standard — but agencies should plan data migrations carefully.

The days when data recovery in a disaster meant long nights, lost weekends and missed soccer games are becoming a thing of the past, industry representatives agreed during a conversation with Federal News Radio host Tom Temin that was webcast on Nov. 15.

Cloud-based disaster recovery (DR) is here and it's fast becoming the new standard — with DR as a service hosting 50,000 production systems this year, up from 30,000 in 2015, according to a Gartner report.

But agencies looking to migrate their data offsite for preservation need to make serious plans before attempting the transition, Dan Kasun, senior manager of Worldwide Public Sector for Amazon Web Services (AWS), said in the webcast.

"Coming up with an efficient process where you're prioritizing your solutions, determining the actual net impact to the organization and also what's easily moveable into the cloud or not is key to establishing that clear strategy for cloud migration," said Kasun, adding that he believes cloud DR's value can reach far beyond an organization's IT department to its business plan and procurement.

He recommended a deliberate approach to eventual adoption: creating a strategic plan for cloud migration, offering widespread training and readiness, and involving "just about anybody" with a stake in your DR.

Brian Brockway, chief technology officer at CommVault, cautioned officials not to expect a swift migration.

"There's no magic bullet, so it does take some legwork to sit down with your organization and understand the workload not just as an application and data set," Brockway said. "Do we have any data sovereignty rules? Those are almost the new criteria you need to put before your strategy. It is definitely a journey. It's not a weekend event to fully turn over and become a fully enabled cloud data center on Monday morning."

That said, the two agreed that cloud migration — whether to a single cloud or, as Temin identified as a new trend, multiple clouds — can offer distinct advantages beyond swifter recovery times.

Infrastructure costs can be lower, Kasun said, because "you use what you need and you can have a backup environment that is minimized and ramped up only when needed." He noted 2,300 agencies worldwide "are active" in AWS.

Transferring to the cloud, he said, will likely require orchestration that's simultaneously more sophisticated and easier to implement than a set of procedures in a binder — planning or pre-programming a DR restoration to revive large areas of data quickly and with minimum effort.

"The other question a lot of agencies have, and I think some have been burned by this, is how do you get data out of the cloud?" Temin said. "You can check data in, but can you get it back when you want to?"

The answer, Brockway said, comes down to an organization's data management strategy.

"The service that you use to put data into the cloud, if it's an effective one ... it can come back in and basically orchestrate and reverse," he said.

As for the two-way nature of data, Kasun said obtaining it is typically less of a concern, "because 'Gosh, I've got to get my stuff out of the cloud' and more about effective data management. And how do I provide better data reliability or have options from an archiving standpoint?"

The looming question, Temin said was the "unthinkable": "What if something goes wrong in the cloud provider?"

Kasun emphasized Amazon's resiliency and CommVault's quick recovery time. Brockway cautioned new adopters to "look at deep, well-funded cloud providers" to ensure "your risk of a cloud provider going out of business overnight is mitigated away."

From Brockway's perspective, the cloud itself has more reliability and resiliency than most customers could ever build into their own data centers. "As an infrastructure resource," he said, "it's fantastic from that perspective."

For agencies, the emerging trend is using multiple clouds. "And it could be what they call a hybrid approach where you have a commercial cloud provider and maybe a multitenant situation," Temin said, asking about strategies for addressing that environment.

Kasun said many scenarios exist, but agencies should be sure their provider offers a variety of options.

"Leveraging industry standards too, to make sure you're supporting the same systems and services that you're using on a premises-based provider," he said, warning that hybrid cloud scenarios can bring increased overhead as clients grapple with issues like needing multiple skill sets and losing the efficiencies of economies of scale.

Once a company migrates to cloud-based DR, Temin questioned how a CIO, chief technology officer or network operations manager can see what's going on with a cloud provider — because it's their agency, their data.

The hope, Kasun said, is that the cloud provider has a strong management consultant that allows visibility. There essentially is a pane of glass that lets IT leaders see what's going on — and many cloud providers offer access to various services and the ability to write complex management solutions.

Effective providers are able to keep that window open, Brockway said.

"We're able to tie that back in, back to the CIO when he's looking there, and saying, 'I need a dashboard to say I can sleep comfortably tonight,'" Brockway said. "What we're able to do is bring the perspective of both what's on-premise, what's in the hybrid cloud and what's in the cloud environment."

Theo Douglas is assistant managing editor for Industry Insider — California, and before that was a staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes covering municipal, county and state governments, business and breaking news. He has a Bachelor's degree in Newspaper Journalism and a Master's in History, both from California State University, Long Beach.