BY DAVE CARPENTER
Achieving offsite data replication is a growing concern for many small and medium-size businesses (SMBs). Many would like to replicate their critical data offsite but lack the facilities and technologies to get the job done quickly, easily, and affordably. As a result, data replication projects often remain on hold due to a lack of resources and an under-appreciation of the potentially high cost of data loss and system failures.
VARs can help SMBs avoid the high costs of data loss and system failures by implementing an off-site data replication service program. Normally, transferring data to a remote site is a daunting task; however, VARs can help SMBs accomplish this quickly and painlessly by employing a support team with the experience and knowledge to:
- Rapidly assess the environment;
- Work with the customer to determine specific business needs;
- Deliver and implement appropriate equipment and software onsite;
- Assist SMBs with the launch of the replication service, and with recovery of lost files;
- Monitor the status of the offsite data center and the link to the customer’s site;
- Provide services with a minimal load on Internet bandwidth, increasing replication and recovery throughput between the customer site and the replication center.
By replicating data to an offsite replication target, a data replication service can provide your company with the ability to restore lost data. In many cases, depending upon how the replication is configured, your recovery may be rapid, and your data losses can be minimal—or even zero.
Implementing a data replication service begins when a VAR works with the appropriate people to determine the files that require replication, and develops a replication strategy. In some cases, you may be able to transfer selected data files onto a portable storage device that is transported to the offsite replication facility. Alternatively, many VARs will configure a system that transmits the entire contents of your data systems that are being replicated to the replication target.
In many cases, this transfer over the Internet could take many days or longer to complete. Choosing a VAR that is able to transfer data locally (at your facility) onto a target storage system brought to your facility, then transporting the device to its data center reduces the amount of time it takes to begin replicating new data, reduces exposure of the data over the Internet, and frees bandwidth that would otherwise be required for the large data transfer.
Companies that choose to replicate locally are subjecting their data to risks that will probably not be experienced when using a VAR with an offsite data center. A company’s replication target may be as basic as another office in the same building. If this is the replication approach a company takes, a disaster that could damage the building housing the main data servers may also damage the replication device, making recovery from such an event difficult or impossible. Therefore, it is best to store the replication devices at a secure, offsite data center.
Once the data has been replicated, a device at your site detects and stores changes in your data. You may choose, when setting up the replication service, which files should be replicated. For example, operating system files, which rarely change, may be effectively backed up using basic backup procedures. But e-mail, sales records, and other files that change frequently or that must be retained to meet legal requirements may require frequent replication. The changed files are stored at your site, prepared for transmission over the Internet, and transferred to the replication device. Frequent replication reduces the amount of exposure to data loss.
Data entering the replication site is written onto the replication target. To ensure data integrity, all replicated data should be written onto a storage device that is exclusively dedicated to storing your files. In this way, when recovery is needed, the potential of receiving another company’s data (or the potential for another company to receive your data) is avoided.
Compressing data before transferring it between your site and the replication target can reduce bandwidth requirements by as much as 97%. Not only does this facilitate faster transfer speeds, it mini- mizes the risk of data loss should your system fail during the transfer. In order to further reduce the risk of data loss, secure replication systems store snapshots of each transfer so that, even if a transfer fails, the data can be rolled back to a specific time.
Retrieving replicated data
If your company suffers a data loss, you should be able to rapidly restore all lost data. For severe data losses, as in the case of failed drives or other catastrophic data losses at the data center, the fastest way of restoring data may involve physically delivering the replication device to your data center, where the data is copied onto new or repaired systems.
Although VARs typically offer a variety of methods for restoring data, the most desirable process should be bidirectional—authorized users at your company can access the replicated data, and copy the data back to your servers. Ideally, you should be able to copy blocks of data or individual files. You should also be able to roll back your file system to recorded restore points.
Using a replication service that stores the data at a tier one data center lets you take advantage of secure storage and data transfers backed by 24/7/365 staffing, main- tenance, monitoring and protection. By choosing a VAR to provide replication services, you can also take advantage of the VAR’s economies of scale to improve performance while saving money. For example, a VAR that specializes in this service already has the knowledge and experience required to set up and fine-tune the service. The VAR should be able to help you quickly de- termine your replication needs, and already has a remote data center in place.
A company considering adding replication to its operations should evaluate the following factors before choosing a data replication service:
- You should be able to take advantage of expensive technology for as low as a few thousand dollars a month.
- The VAR will configure, maintain and monitor services with minimal training and maintenance costs charged to you.
- The VAR will tailor service plans that meet your specific needs and budget.
Secure data replication
- The VAR should offer a level of data security and protection that may be higher than you can affordably establish on your own.
Flexible recovery options
- You should be able to transfer block data over the Internet, as well as perform file-level recovery.
- You should be able to get total device recovery of replicated data, by securely transporting a device with your repli- cated data to your location, for restora- tion from that device.
The effects of data loss range from a minor inconvenience to catastrophic losses that may force a company to fail. One of the most effective methods for restoring lost data is to prepare for data loss in advance, by frequently replicating the data to an offsite replication target. When data loss occurs, you should be able to restore your data—as blocks or as files—in minutes or hours; or, by restoring from the actual device that holds the replicated data.
Although performing the replication yourself may seem attractive, selecting a VAR that can provide these services, while requiring minimal up-front and ongoing investment in hardware and software, can be more cost effective.