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Issue of September 2006 

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Disaster Recovery

The 3D Road to Recovery

When it comes to an effective disaster recovery strategy, nothing can beat 3DR. Rishiraj Verma reports

The one thing that even the best of CIOs may not be able to foretell is when disaster will strike and in what form. What happened to the World Trade Centre in the US and recently in Mumbai have made organisations realise the importance of ensuring that even in the worst-case scenario work goes on. It has therefore become essential for every organisation not only to have a disaster recovery plan in place but also to make sure it works when it is most needed.

The 3DR concept was coined by the Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) and has become the talk of the town in the IT industry. The 3 in this concept stands for three tiers of data protection. 1DR is the 1st tier pertaining to data recovery, 2DR is the 2nd tier of disaster recovery and 3DR stands for the 3rd and final tier or doomsday recovery. The first two tiers—in most cases—use disks to recover data and the third tier uses tape.

The concept

Although the name is new, all major components of 3DR are already in use.

Soumitra Agarwal

Soumitra Agarwal, Marketing Director, NetApp India explains why 3DR is becoming essential for enterprises. He says, “Data protection needs to be ensured at multiple levels.” He says that data needs to be protected from various kinds of threats, disaster being one of them. “What gives 3DR the edge is that it considerably reduces the downtime and the number of backup windows,” he adds.

P K Gupta

P K Gupta, Director, Strategic Development, Asia-Pacific, Japan and Korea, EMC feels, “The first stage has existed for decades, be it storing data on floppies, punch cards or any other medium for later recovery. The idea is to recover all your applications and other data in the least possible time.” He adds that in a lot of ways, many large organisations already have a doomsday recovery plan in place and SMBs are beginning to feel the need to move a step ahead from the basic forms of data recovery using tape.

Sunny John, Country Manager, India, Quantum says, “3DR is a fairly recent concept as in DR with three levels of protected data.” He says that the major objective of a 3DR plan is to cut down on the Recovery Time Object (RTO) and Recovery Point Object (RPO).

Satinder Singh, Principal Systems Engineer, Symantec feels, “Treating information and data in a protected environment, where multiple levels of protection is in place would do good for the organisation.” He adds that there can be various kinds of failures from system to site and region. This according to him is the logic behind the concept.

Inside the works

The final step of data protection is 3DR or doomsday recovery. Here, the most critical data is stored on tapes and sent to a ‘safe’ geographical location. This makes sure that the organisation can not only backup data but also recover it as and when necessary

The 3DR concept may be considered an extension of simple data recovery that has now come to be known as the first tier. Tier-one works on the principal of disk-to-disk recovery in most cases. “This is basically local protection of data and the next two tiers are for remote backup and archiving respectively,” explains Agarwal.

John points to an ESG presentation explaining all tiers of 3DR. In the first tier, data may be backed up through the use of various technologies such as Virtual Tape Library (VTL), Continuous Data Protection (CDP), Network Attached Storage (NAS) and Content Addressed Storage (CAS). The use of low-end disks is prevalent in this tier.

Remote mirroring and remote replication are the two ways in which data is backed up on the secondary site. Here again disks are used.

As far as the doomsday site is concerned, the most traditional mechanism of data replication on tape is used. Data is vaulted on tapes and these may then be sent to a more secure location for protection against any kind of loss.

Another question which may bother IT departments pertains to physically connecting the three sites. Agarwal explains, “The recommended way to connect sites would be through the use of leased lines.” He adds that these lines provide dedicated bandwidth. He also talks of VPN as another means of connecting the sites. “But they do not guarantee bandwidth,” he states.

Data from tier-one is replicated and stored at another geographical location for backup. In this case too, disks are being used by most organisations. This second tier can be used in case there is a total outage of the primary site.

The final step of data protection is 3DR or doomsday recovery. Here the most critical data is stored on tapes and sent to a ‘safe’ geographical location. This makes sure that the organisation can not only backup data but also recover it as and when necessary. As Rajendra Dhavale, Consulting Director, Computer Associates points out, “The concept may be a success simply because the mindset is changing from high speed backups to high speed recovery.”

It must be noted however that this tier should not be used for day-to-day backups as it adds to the data and therefore to the number of tapes being used, thus making actual recovery on the ‘doomsday’ a tedious process. To avoid this, organisations need to understand and then store only their most critical data on tapes for doomsday recovery. In any other case, they will end up archiving a lot of non-critical information which will only add to their backup and recovery time, which data sensitive organisations such as the BPO sector or the BFSI segment may not be able to bear. Vivekanand Venugopal, Director, Software Solutions, APAC, Hitachi Data Systems comments, “Application classification may be even more important than data classification in the earlier stages.” According to him, this will make sure right at the outset what applications are the most critical and therefore the data related to them will become critical automatically, thus saving time.

Says Singh, “Various backup software are available for the first tier. Data replication has been alive for quite some time. As far as the doomsday tier is concerned, tapes have been around for as long as one can imagine.”

Agarwal concurs, “Numerous solutions are being offered by vendors on both software and hardware fronts. There have also been many developments such as the introduction of VTL, which make sure that data is backed up faster and that organisations do not have to change their existing IT infrastructure.”

With solutions in the form of hardware and software already available in the market, it may not be long before more organisations jump on the 3DR bandwagon.

What organisations get

Deploying 3DR ensures lot of benefits. Agarwal says, “The backup copies can be used for other production purposes.” He says that the organisation—once it has implemented the 3DR strategy—does not have to rely on data that has been stored at the primary source. Instead, it can use the secondary data and save itself from any possible downtime.

He adds that the major objectives of cutting down on RPO and RTO can be fulfilled because of 3DR. “You have much faster recovery and backup times. Thus RPO and RTO get cut down.” However proper data classification plays an important part.

Dhavale points out that one of the advantages of 3DR is high data availability. He says that solutions are already available in the market to ensure critical data availability at all times.

Venugopal adds, “The organisation can mitigate the risk of a regional disaster. There is also zero data loss.” He says that the various technologies used for asynchronous data replication make sure that no data is lost.

John hints at the obvious, “Most organisations would benefit by strategising their backup and recovery strategy based on 3DR, which will improve their resilience against disasters.”

Hurdles enroute

The face of organisations while adopting ‘new’ technologies may be changing. But there are still roadblocks that may prevent them from embracing such concepts.

Agarwal and Dhavale feel that the upfront investment cost is the biggest roadblock in the way of organisations adopting 3DR. Says Agarwal, “The costs required for a complete 3DR setup may be very high and this may prevent SMBs (if not larger enterprises) from taking up the concept.”

Agarwal adds that for a smaller organisation, the cost may be a deterrent. “3DR therefore may not even feature on its list.”

Dhavale says, “Another important challenge that organisations might face is that of deployment time.” He says that not all organisations can afford to face downtime and this may hamper 3DR adoption.

Venugopal feels that failure to do a proper risk analysis before deploying a DR plan could be a major roadblock. This according to him may lead to unnecessary data being pushed onto tapes and a larger number of tapes getting stored at the third site.

3DR in India

Here again, vendors have different views on the current status of 3DR in the Indian market. While some say that it is already catching up, others feel that there is still room for growth.

Dhavale says that a large number of organisations have already gone in for third-tier backups. “2D automatically leads to 3D,” he says. He adds that for SMBs the focus is changing from backup to recovery.

“BFSI, telecom and IT related organisations are either already using 3DR or planning to do so soon,” says Venugopal.

Gupta comments, “We are not very far. Most organisations already have a basic DR plan in place which works right. And with component costs lowering by the day, Indian enterprises may soon be expected to be 3DR-ready.”

Agarwal differs, “It (3DR) still needs to pick up pace. What is needed is a change of mindset.” He believes that unless this change occurs, the concept will remain a buzzword and may even fizzle out.

John says, “Not all organisations require 3DR as it depends on their RTO and RPO.” He suggests that such organisations must “build as they grow” rather than “rip and replace” technology.

Stress is also being laid on other strategies such as deploying VTL, which makes sure that organisations benefit to the maximum without actually making substantial changes to their infrastructure. “VTL acts like tape to any software that you may be using,” says Agarwal. This allows it to fit into an organisation’s 3DR plan.

Dhavale states, “It will be of great help to tier-one and tier-two.” He says that this technology will be most beneficial to organisations that still use tape for second-tier backups.

To sum up, though all components of 3DR such as disks, tapes and VTL are available in the market, organisations have to understand that these are only technologies and only a ‘best-practice’ such as 3DR will work better.

Heidi Biggar of ESG on 3DR
Implementing 3DR
3DR isn’t so much a concept as a framework. The idea behind it is simple: to build a data protection continuum that emphasises ‘the recoverability’ of data not just backup. Implementing a 3DR framework can have powerful backup and recovery benefits, including improved backup and recovery performance (i.e., getting backup jobs done in allotted windows and then recovering data more efficiently and in line with specific SLAs), cost benefits (hard and soft), improved management, and, ultimately, less data risk or exposure.

How it works
Again, 3DR doesn’t ‘work’ per se; it simply is. The first step towards a ‘3DR end’ is to adopt a recovery-focussed mindset. Once this shift in thinking occurs, organisations can begin to ‘sketch’ out a 3DR strategy, leveraging existing processes and policies where appropriate. 1DR is the ‘data recovery’ tier; 2DR is the ‘disaster recovery’ tier (e.g., data is replicated or moved off-site for DR purposes); and 3DR is the ‘doomsday recovery’ (in other words, the tape tier in case the worst happens).

The simple, greatest advantage of 3DR is that it gets organisations thinking in ‘recovery’ terms.

Everything comes down to cost and complexity. Organisations must evaluate 3DR from a budgetary perspective.

3DR is the cornerstone of a major shift in attitude toward data protection. Many of the leading vendors are now pushing this idea of recovery-focussed management; 3DR ties it all together.

Disk v/s Tape

Enterprises have seen a change in the first two tiers of data protection. Disks have started replacing tapes in tier-one and tier-two of 3DR.

Vendors say that both disk and tape have their pros and cons. They feel that it is the co-existence of these two media at different levels of the plan that will enable organisations to make sure that their data is safe, even on doomsday.

Says Singh: “While disk may ensure speed and faster backups and restores, tape offers long-term reliability for data.” Dhavale echoes his views and adds that apart from being slower, tape may not be able to completely restore data.

John lists the advantages and disadvantages of both the technologies, “Tape is the cheapest storage medium. It is removable, thus, protecting data even when it is taken offsite. Tape may be faster than disk for larger backups.” He adds that when it comes to backup or retrieval of smaller files, tape may not be comfortable to work with. He feels that disk is a more fragile medium and cannot last as long as tape, which has a life of around 30 years.

Gupta points out, “In the US, fibre channel disk may cost up to $30 per GB, while an ATA disk would be around $2.5 to $3 per GB and tape comes for a few cents per GB.” He says that the pricing system for any medium is of great importance to SMBs and therefore they must make their choice accordingly.

Considering these views about tape and disk, the concept of 3DR is sound insofar as it insists that disk stays only at the first two tiers. These are meant for smaller file retrievals and restores, which is where disk wins over tape. But when it comes to the doomsday tier, it may be advisable for organisations to stick to tape as it can tackle backups and restores over a longer time span. This tier is also meant for the time when all other resources fail. If in this case, organisations go in for the more ‘fragile’ disk, they may even be risking data loss where there is absolutely no room for it.

Just a buzzword

So is the newest three-letter-word of the IT industry just a buzzword, or are there concrete signs of 3DR picking up in the market. “The components exist, so there is no reason why it should not hold water. If executed right, it can be one of the most beneficial concepts organisations may see in the near future,” says an optimistic Agarwal.

John feels, “It is a guideline, a sort of best practice to improve data recoverability.” He adds that this concept is continually being improved with newer technologies coming in all the time.

Singh asserts, “The execution will prove if 3DR is just a buzzword or something real.”

Although vendors are optimistic, it remains to be seen if 3DR is rea-dily accepted by organisations.

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