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Donít roll the dice on data loss

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   By Chris Poelker, March 2012

H03_DisasterRecovery_FalconStor_ChrisPoelker_90x128Implement smart recovery to reduce disaster recovery costs in healthcare.

Healthcare IT professionals know that data loss is simply not an option for them. Losing power or losing data can mean losing important documents that affect doctorsí decisions. Despite this fact, many healthcare IT firms donít have a successful disaster recovery (DR) plan in place. More often, the DR plan hasnít been tested in years.

The truth is that backup is a nuisance, and shrinking IT budgets are pushing DR plans to the back burner. But of all people, healthcare professionals should understand the value of an insurance policy. And an insurance policy is just like a DR plan. Cutting corners on your insurance policy or DR plan may seem like it will save money, but the cost will come back two-fold in the event of a disaster. That may leave many wondering, ďHow expensive is a disaster in the healthcare market?Ē

According to publicly available data from a few years ago, a healthcare provider will lose $640,000 for every hour its systems are down. If data is an IT departmentís lifeblood, an hour of data loss is like hitting the jugular.

Do you know how hard your IT department will be hit in the event of a disaster? From a hurricane to a simple power outage, this is a question you need to know. Take a look at these issues to help analyze your backup and DR costs and avoid that frightening six-figure dollar amount.

Managing tape with de-dupe
With tape, your goal should be to use it as an archive storage tier. This will allow you to minimize the need to recover from tape. Tape gets a bad rap mostly because itís terrible for recovery. However, itís great for archiving. Using a traditional backup operation of daily incremental and weekly complete backups, you need to manage around 100 terabytes (TB) of tape media for every 20 TB of production data with a two percent change and a three percent growth rate. And thatís only for a simple five-week retention plan. Simple math shows that a shop with similar retention requirements and 100 TB of data would need 550 TB of tape (100 x 110 = 550). If you add de-dupe to the mix, you can store the same capacity in only 28 TB of disk at 20:1, and just cut a tape copy once a month.

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Calculating infrastructure and time
Donít forget that the performance metrics need to include the entire data path: network, backup server, storage and backup target (tape or disk) as a whole. It doesnít matter how fast your backup target is if you canít feed it fast enough. Remember that the time to recover using traditional approaches is usually twice the time to back up. As an example, a small virtual tape solution could provide hundreds of virtual LTO4 drives over Fibre Channel for a fraction of the cost.  

Managing your network
Your wide area network (WAN) needs to be able to handle the data change happening on a day-to-day basis. It should be measured for peak loads so that critical batch-processing periods, such as end-of-month or end-of-year processing data, are not at risk. The need for a robust WAN often means it is the most expensive part of a good DR strategy. Again, de-dupe can eliminate up to 97 percent of your replication traffic for disaster recovery, and including continuous data protection will improve the recovery times from hours or days to just a few minutes. When you calculate the savings from the cost of a single outage, it will provide the business case for the solution purchase.

Determining the target siteís ability
Just like the WAN, your target site must be able to handle peak workloads. All of the critical applications requirements need to be met, even if it is in a degraded fashion. Data must also be available in an amount of time that supports business continuity at a minimal impact. When determining DR infrastructure requirements for your organization, remember that healthcare companies can lose approximately $640,000 for every hour of downtime. That being the case, you can still reduce the costs of DR by virtualizing your servers and storage so that you donít get locked in to the same vendor or equipment at both sides. Storage virtualization provides the ability to replicate from expensive large storage arrays at the production site to fast modular storage for DR, which can save up to 50 percent of the storage cost at the target site. Implementing rapid physical-to-virtual recovery enables virtual servers at the DR site to run on server blades, which reduces footprint and consolidates server costs.

Transforming your recovery into smart recovery
In the event of a disaster, clients need to be able to connect to new servers as if they were connecting to the old servers; so infrastructure servers Ė such as directory services, network routers and phone lines, if required Ė need to be available. The right infrastructure must be at the DR site to handle these kinds of operations. You need to understand how to bring up applications that have crashed so that they work again. There are typically many interdependencies between application servers and databases for most modern applications, and they need to be brought up on the right platform in the correct sequence. The ability to bring applications up using consistency grouping for the replicated data is extremely important.

A phased approach to smart recovery
Smart recovery isnít as elusive as some IT professionals are led to believe. The correct sequence can help maximize your backup and recovery processes.

The first step is to add de-duplication to your backup process. In addition to being an affordable necessity, a de-dupe solution can replicate data offsite to eliminate offsite tape movement, recall costs, eliminate array-based replication licenses for that data and reduce the WAN requirements to replicate that data by up to 97 percent.

Next, snap-shot-based backup implementations will reduce the backup window to a couple of seconds. Moving from traditional bulk backup to snapshot backup eliminates the physical data movement from one point to another. The changed processes can back up more often, and data recovery is typically much faster. Also, the use of continuous data protection (CDP) makes recovery happen at lightning speeds and eliminates data loss. As previously established, hospitals cannot afford to lose information, and CDP can reduce data-loss figures to zero.

Finally, look at implementing virtualization into your storage process to do server consolidation, data mobility, cost reduction and more.

Smart recovery isnít rocket science, but it does take work. It is better to optimize your storage, backup and recovery systems before a disaster rather than be scrambling after a disaster. The cost of losing data is too high for healthcare IT professionals to do anything else.   

About the author

Chris Poelker is VP of enterprise solutions, FalconStor Software. For more on FalconStor Software, click here.


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