Coping with disaster

What did Sydney's April 1999 hailstorm, Auckland's power outage, Victoria's gas problem, Y2K and the bombing of the World Trade Centre have in common?

From the IT perspective each event had the potential to do serious damage to business technology systems, even possibly shutting them down. With today's reliance on technology and IT systems, the inability to recover mission-critical data can wipe out businesses.

The demands of the new Internet economy, with its five 9s reliability and 24x7 availability, have seen companies big and small invest more in disaster recovery and its big brother, business continuity, than ever before.

A term by any other name . . .

Business continuity is concerned with the prevention of a disaster or the continuance of all aspects of a business following an unplanned outage or scheduled downtime. Disaster recovery has tended to be limited to ensuring IT hardware and software is up and running quickly in the event of a disaster. However, like many aspects of IT, the terms are merging and in many instances are used interchangeably.

Richard Stutchbury, general manager for Databank Technologies, suggested the emergence of business continuity planning is an attempt to broaden the scope of disaster recovery to include all business operations as well as data protection and disaster recovery.

Bruce Crauch, manager of enterprise infrastructure solutions for Data#3, said business continuity was a topic of upmost importance to large organisations three years ago.

"The 'disaster recovery' term is a little outdated now . . . [it] is more about business continuity and continuous availability rather than a reaction to a particular event," Crauch explained. "[Business continuity] is now more a core item to all companies' business strategies across all sectors and industries - from startups to multinationals," he said.

"At the end of the day you are trying to make sure your business continues.

"Therefore, disaster recovery is more than just IT," Crauch stressed.

Background

According to a report released in July this year by Gartner's research arm, Dataquest, half the Australian companies surveyed had disaster recovery provisions in place. Almost a third had plans in progress, while only 4 per cent admitted to having no plan at all. Dataquest surveyed 653 end-user organisations across the Asia-Pacific region in late 1999 for the report. Across the region, an average 45 per cent of organisations had already implemented disaster recovery plans.

The same report revealed that amongst the Australian companies surveyed, the number of respondents adopting business continuity plans was slightly lower. According to Dataquest, 30 per cent had already implemented plans, 33.7 per cent had plans in progress and 15.3 per cent had no plans whatsoever.

Earlier research from Dataquest confirmed that disaster recovery has been an important consideration for many organisations for some time.

According to research released by Dataquest in April 1999, disaster recovery ranked third on the list of serious problems CIOs face in the Asia-Pacific region. Data back-up, timely data retrieval, Y2K compliance and system availability were among the serious issues concerning most CIOs at the time, the company reported.

However, despite the growth and new pressures driving the disaster recovery market, in some ways little has changed. Many organisations still believe the best protection for their business is through tape backups of their critical files (and in some cases it is). The best customers for disaster recovery products are still those who have had a near miss. However, banks and multinational corporations remain the most reliable customers.

Largely driven by fear of Y2K-related disasters, awareness of the importance of disaster recovery plans and business continuation processes began increasing around three years ago and has continued to grow.

Philip Sargeant, server and storage analyst for Gartner Pacific, said although awareness has increased as a result of Y2K, for some organisations disaster recovery has always been an important issue.

"For a certain group of enterprises, [disaster recovery] was always high on the list of priorities. Y2K was just another added problem they had to face," Sargeant said. "I don't think it really pushed disaster recovery further [up the ladder]."

"Y2K caused disaster recovery to be an issue of people over-insuring themselves and over-spent budgets," warned Stutchbury.

"Suppliers are constantly saying [disaster recovery] is one thing companies should be doing all the time," he stressed.

Developing awareness

Despite IT industry concerns that disaster recovery issues will fade into the background now that the Y2K problems are over, most industry specialists believe the sector is developing and evolving strongly.

Greg Hood, director of professional services for Hitachi Data Systems, Asia Pacific, said he believes attitudes towards disaster recovery have changed "quite a bit" and as a consequence the market is growing strongly.

"When HDS [entered] the disaster recovery market, it was very much cheap and cheerful," he said. However, events over recent years have heightened awareness of its importance. In fact, Hood said, a noticeable change in the market last year led HDS to move premises in order to create a substantial disaster recovery facility for customers.

"Directors of companies are seeing the need and are encouraging investments in disaster recovery," he said.

Events such as the Sydney Water crisis and Auckland power failure, as well as Y2K, have brought the issue to the forefront.

Solutions and opportunities

With the introduction of a broader definition of disaster recovery has come many opportunities for both the channel and the vendors.

Tape libraries, data backup systems and hardware are no longer enough to support most businesses. Management software, complex clustering functionality, high data availability, storage area networks, replication software, uninterrupted power supply solutions and off-site facilities are all being used to create total disaster recovery plans.

Companies can choose to adopt a prevention strategy using SANs, and system monitoring applications, Stutchbury said. Or alternatively, if a customer chooses the recovery approach, software and hardware enabling backup copies are important.

The important point to remember, Stutchbury said, especially as a reseller, is that every company is different.

According to Gartner's Sargeant, larger companies will prefer to do most of their disaster recovery internally in their own fully equipped data centres. However, for small organisations, the costs of running a data centre are too high and often outstrip the benefits, he said.

"In a smaller organisation, providing a disaster recovery plan might mean having additional equipment on hand," Sargeant explained. "But companies get to the point where it is not economical to have equipment on hand. Then they go to a third-party supplier."

An alternative to a data centre is a smaller off-site backup facility, most likely hosted by a service provider, reseller or - as Sargeant suggests - Internet service providers (ISPs) or application service providers (ASPs).

EMC's director of alliances and partners, Ian Hamilton, agreed hosted backup facilities are a popular option for many organisations that cannot afford to run their own data centres.

"We work with a number of resellers capable of hosting backup facilities and providing disaster recovery services into our systems. They can add value by doing backups or testing and take a lot of back-end pressure off customer's production systems," Hamilton said.

"It also creates a lot of opportunities for resellers and partners to drive value into the market."

Channel opportunities

Hamilton said with the right partners, resellers can "pull together" complete disaster recovery solutions for customers as well as provide additional value in areas including networking, application testing and integration, and maintenance.

"Resellers have the ability to provide infrastructure between two remote replication sites and expertise in back-up products.

"Technical expertise is of huge value to customers . . . in resellers (customers) are very specifically not looking for companies who just move boxes," he said.

"Customers want to make disaster recovery a bigger part of a total solution."

Hamilton urged resellers striving to make a move in disaster recovery to approach the market with a services portfolio.

Make more from a sale by adding after-sales support and encourage customers who may be using data facilities to use the service in more than just unplanned outages, he suggested.

Opportunities exist for resellers to cash in on application testing and development which can be done at a company's mirror disaster recovery site without disrupting normal business operations. This way the disaster recovery facility becomes a more cost-effective resource for the company as well, he said.

According to Leanne Cunnold from American Power Conversion, power protection is an important aspect of disaster recovery and an area on which resellers can capitalise.

"Forty per cent of data losses are caused by power failure," Cunnold warned, adding that recommending power protection as part of a total disaster recovery solution would be an "easy way" for resellers to increase an overall sale.

"A study shows that if a reseller recommends power protection, the customer usually buys it," she said.

"Power protection is the critical foundation from which to build a total disaster recovery solution in any IT infrastructure."

For integrator/reseller Data#3, disaster recovery is just one part of its entire range of core services.

"We actually see disaster recovery as being a complementary or natural extension of other core services," Crauch said. "As core technology in an IT environment, it is something to consider [proceeding with].

John Grant, CEO of Data#3, added that disaster recovery also provides a good opportunity to build a long-term relationship with customers.

"It's certainly an ongoing business. It definitely provides ongoing opportunities in products and services," he said.

Paul Roberts, national business development specialist for Computer Associates' channels storage group, agreed that long-term relationships would "definitely" spawn from a disaster recovery project.

Roberts said he "hoped all resellers" were involved in the disaster recovery market in some capacity, be it product sales or merely recommending customers discuss the issue.

"I would hope resellers discuss disaster recovery to make sure customers are aware of the situations they can run into . . . it is vital to understand how important disaster recovery is."

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