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Preparing for disaster: interview

AvantiKumar | Oct. 11, 2013
CommVault's Pete Chenoweth outlines some of the steps that Malaysian and Asian organisations need to have in place to minimise business disruption during disasters.

Computerworld Malaysia asked Pete Chenoweth, enterprise data management systems firm CommVault's director of technical services, South East Asia, for a check list that organisations in Malaysia and Asia need to include in their disaster recovery and business continuity strategies.

Pete Chenoweth - CommVault modified

Photo - Pete Chenoweth, Director of Technical Services, South East Asia - CommVault.

What parts of the business are most affected most by disasters?

As everyone knows, the aftermath and destruction natural disasters leave in their path are significant. Aside from the obvious physical destruction in both human and public infrastructure terms, businesses will nearly always have to deal considerable disruption of internal IT infrastructure and processes as well. Business owners need to be better prepared for the long-term challenges, through preparation now, while also minimising the short term rebuilding and replacement costs immediately post disaster.

From simple power blackouts resulting from outages in electricity supply can make it difficult for businesses to continue effective operations. Back-up and recovery processes can be interrupted, resulting in important data being lost or not communicated to the right parties in a timely fashion. Data and even backup copies of data can potentially be corrupted. In the event of data corruption, the only way to recover your data would be to retrieve a clean copy that has previously been archived.

Perhaps just as damaging although not so often considered in disaster recovery preparedness are smaller scale incidents or accidents at a location specific level. For instance, I have seen disaster recovery (DR) invoked for something as simple as stray water - leaking data centre cooling systems, broken mains and general infrastructure failures cause equally damaging business impacts - and these are certainly not the grand force of nature accidents that people often associate DR events with.      

In today's world, data is being generated all the time and businesses need to make sure that their most important data is protected by effective DR policies. If even one rack in a data centre is impacted by any form of minor incident - if that rack contained the entire business critical data of a single organisation, that will require a DR solution. This means that proper data management processes must be put in place, for almost any size or scale of business. Therefore, the proper storage, accessing and utilisation of data as and when businesses need it, is key to differentiating themselves in the competitive business landscape. 

How can businesses better 'plan' for disaster recovery?

In my opinion, the first thing businesses need to do is practice good data 'housekeeping' habits. Employing proper data management processes is essential, especially because a lot of today's data comes in an unstructured form, which makes it very complicated to index and archive. As a company's data grows, so does the cost needed to maintain offsite copies. Tape handling and transportation, media rotation and storage all add cost elements. This eventually leads to a recovery environment which is too complex to test and too difficult to recover reliably in the event of disaster. Businesses need to deploy a robust data management platform that leverages multiple technologies, in order to create more operational efficiency.

Building a sound disaster recovery capability draws from most areas of the company's IT infrastructure, to achieve this, the technology employed must reduce complexity in the recovery process. This is an important pre-requisite when striving for business continuity.

Every business in the country should have a comprehensive and up-to-date disaster recovery plan. Regardless of the type or scale of the disaster that may occur, there are some consistent plans and preparations you should make to avoid what could be a business catastrophe in the event of a future disaster.

Regardless of your business continuity plans and protection policies where business and critical data are concerned, there are several things you can do to improve your disaster recovery position. Think of it as a three step process.

Disaster recovery planning and preparedness
Often IT business leaders prioritise data and systems based on financial impact to the business should they become unavailable.  For instance, an HR payroll system outage could be managed by re-running last month's salary information and is hence a significantly lower priority than systems that the business relies on generating revenue from, examples being point-of-sale, e-commerce, billing and trading applications. 

When planning, businesses need to take note of the following four things:
- Rank your data and systems by importance to the business
- Assess and document recovery point (RPO) and recovery time objectives (RTO) for major systems, involving key stakeholders in the process
- Apply the appropriate technology and methodology based on RPO and RTO
- Test, test and re-test.

During the disaster
At this stage, businesses that are well-prepared will be taking proactive measures against possible downtime, while others will be reacting to the disaster as it unfolds. Treat any recovery effort as a chance to learn and improve. Capture information about what went smoothly, any issues that arose and how they were mitigated

Post disaster
To me, this is the most important step out of the entire process. Here is where businesses need to take critical stock of how they fared in the face of disaster, and reevaluate the existing disaster recovery plans, or if there is no plan in place, develop one. Preparing against disaster and ensuring your business returns to normal operations will definitely take time, effort, and resources

How does CommVault help businesses in their recovery and business continuity planning?

A critical facet of disaster planning and recovery that is often overlooked is "protection of the protection product". Simply, it is your protection product that is invariably the first place that you start when recovering from a disaster.  A fundamental CommVault value proposition is that we supply a data management solution, which helps to cut costs and reduce risk on a single platform and architecture, Simpana.

This is important because it is this single platform combined with a unique architecture in the data management vertical that delivers un-surpassed "protection of the protection product" to our customers.

The single platform is based on Microsoft SQL enterprise edition, which is shipped at no extra cost with Simpana. This means that our customers are able to apply any availability technique built in to MS SQL to high availability of the protection solution ensuring that recovery of Simpana protection and recovery services in DR is highly simplified, very fast and included in the base product functionality.
Aside from enterprise data recovery functionality for critical databases, applications and unstructured data, our latest Simpana 10 platform supports disaster recovery initiatives in the following ways:

- CommVault's IntelliSnap snapshot management
With our inbuilt data recovery and backup software, CommVault can help provide instant automated recovery of applications and virtual servers, so businesses can more quickly access important data in the case of a disaster

- CommVault Edge mobile app for smartphones and tablets
If small scale incidents destroy end-users personal devices, remote backup capabilities available in Simpana 10 means that it can be instantly accessed from different mobile devices (i.e. a tablet) even if was originally created on a different (laptop) devices that has been lost, damaged, destroyed

A new web-based console and mobile app allows end users to access their data from their personal devices means they will be able to work from home even if they cannot travel to their offices. Therefore if any disaster prevents people from travelling into their office, all secure content can (with the correct authorisations) be accessible anywhere that is required - meaning a business can get back to normal operations more effectively

What would you say is different about CommVault's approach?

We are very proud of our Simpana platform's ability to help businesses drive costs down, eliminate complexity and allow faster, greater access to data through one unified platform for Smart Data access, protection and management. The fact that we offer a multitude of functions on a singular platform is what makes us so different from our competitors. 

Another key advantage about Simpana is its interoperability, and compatibility with other vendors' solutions making it easier for businesses to integrate the Simpana software with their existing legacy systems. This allows for multi-tenancy infrastructure, which is the reality of today's IT infrastructure.

We have recently launched the latest version of Simpana, Simpana 10, where more than 300 new features combine to reduce risks and also slash costs by up to half. Businesses which implement our solutions can also expect to see a decrease in administrative overhead and lowered support costs by up to 80 percent and 35 percent respectively.

The Simpana platform reduces time taken to manage operations by up to 50 percent, allowing IT leaders and service providers to improve quality of service, simplifying tedious tasks and freeing much needed IT resources for more strategic initiatives.

There are many benefits when it comes to using Simpana Software to accelerate disaster recovery. Businesses can choose to optimise disaster recovery operations with flexible options for replication or WAN-optimised deduplication on a singular platform. Furthermore, since we deduplicate at the source, reducing the amount of data backed up and also the network bandwidth needed, businesses will realise how much more cost-effective our solutions are.


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