DRaaS options grow, but no one size fits all

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AutoNation spent years trying to establish a disaster recovery plan that inspired confidence. It went through multiple iterations, including failed attempts at a full on-premises solution and a solution completely in the cloud. The Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based auto retailer, which operates 300 locations across 16 states, finally found what it needed was a hybrid model featuring disaster recovery as a service.

“Both the on-premises and public-cloud disaster-recovery models were expensive, not tested often or thoroughly enough, and were true planning and implementation disasters that left us open to risk,” says Adam Rasner, AutoNation’s vice president of IT and operations, who was brought on two years ago in part to revamp the disaster recovery plan.

The public cloud approach sported a hefty price tag: an estimated $3 million if it were needed in the wake of a three-month catastrophic outage. “We were probably a little bit too early in the adoption of disaster recovery in the cloud,” Rasner says, noting that the cloud providers have matured substantially in recent years.

AutoNation, which also owns collision centers, auction houses and launched its own precision parts line in 2018, has a new disaster-recovery plan that features a blend of colocation-based and as-a-service-based disaster recovery, with 75 percent of applications targeted to recover from a Denver colocation facility and 25 percent from Amazon Web Services. The environments are orchestrated by DRaaS provider Cohesity and its secondary data-management platform, which backs up and replicates virtual servers, applications and data to the colocation facility and to AWS. Cohesity also manages failover and recovery.

“The ability in a disaster to flip a switch and automatically spin up VMs off-premises lets me sleep better at night,” Rasner says.

What is DRaaS?

The DRaaS market is a complex scene. There are hundreds of DRaaS providers, all with different approaches and capabilities for replicating and hosting servers and data.

Some DRaaS services focus on virtual servers, while others also back up physical servers; some rely on on-site backup appliances, others don’t. It’s a growing market, as enterprises look to third-party providers to provide failover in the event of natural disasters or service disruptions. Market research firm Technavio predicts the global DRaaS market will expand at a compound annual growth rate of nearly 36 percent between 2018 and 2022.

For Ken Adams, CIO of Miles & Stockbridge in Baltimore, DRaaS is a way to fully embrace the cloud but still address compliance demands for the 480-employee law firm. ISO standards require law firms to preserve data in three different locations. As an early adopter of the cloud, Adams embraced as-a-service early on and saw the opportunity to use it for disaster recovery. 

Miles & Stockbridge uses ClearSky Data’s on-demand platform and appliances to access and store virtual servers and data locally and in a colocation facility in Virginia, and to send data out to a third location: a virtual cache server on Amazon’s AWS, which Adams calls his “insurance policy.”

ClearSky was originally just a storage platform for us, and then we decided to try putting our servers on the appliances, which have solid-state drives. We had no performance hit on the servers and we got that extra protection from having the servers – not just the data – ready in multiple locations,” he says.

While the appliance in Virginia is updated almost in real time, the AWS version of the data is a little older, saving on traffic. Disaster recovery, he says, is now easy. “You just push a button in the ClearSky console that works with VMware and fails over from one environment to the other.” 

Adams has dedicated fiber lines from two different ISPs connecting the ClearSky appliances so they can easily handle the heavy demands of applications such as litigation support. However, he says the burden on them is not as great as it might be because some applications such as the firm’s document-management solution are already accessed as SaaS, giving them built-in disaster recovery.

Which apps are a fit for DRaaS?

Spencer Suderman, principal consultant for tech research and advisory firm ISG in Stamford, Conn., says as interest grows in DRaaS and more players enter the market, IT teams have to consider the needs of their servers and data. While some servers and applications might port easily to a cloud-based “as a service” disaster recovery environment, others might be resistant because they are proprietary or are highly interdependent with other applications.

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