Note: This article first appeared at ForeFront, a Thomson Reuters Elite newsletter.

A new topic has been top of mind for many technology professionals in light of the growing trend of server virtualization among fast growing IT environments: replication. While not new, the technology solutions for server replication have been gaining traction and taking a foothold in many IT departments. The problem is that the faith put in replication might be misplaced and, in some cases, could put your firm at risk.

The basics of replication involve making copies of your data from one location, or server, to another. This ensures that the data is accessible at all times even if a server goes down. This solution is commonly adopted as part of disaster recovery (DR) and business continuity (BC) planning to ensure continuous operations in case of a disaster or other IT interruption. There are many different ways you can set up replication, and vendors abound with different solutions and varying price points.

The Fallacy of Replication Technologies
Should your firm look at replication as part of your BC/DR plan? Is your firm currently employing replication? A few words of caution are required. In a recent educational short video, the analyst firm ESG gives a great explanation of the misconceptions around server replication and why this technology is not synonymous with business continuity.

First, it is important to understand what you are trying to accomplish. Replication will allow you to have access to your data after a disaster or other type of interruption (power failure, server crash, virus, etc.) but it may not help if you also need access to the applications used to read or work with the data. Moreover, there is more to business continuity than accessing the data. It involves people, processes, and procedures that should be in sync with the technologies IT is supporting for business operations.

Survivability of your data doesn’t ensure survivability of your firm. Backing up and replicating servers is not enough unless you can boot up the systems in a certain order and ensure the different elements of your IT infrastructure are also available. That’s where replication technologies fall short.

Key Questions to Ask
So, what is your firm to do to avoid practice interruption that could cost thousands of dollars in lost billable hours? Look for solutions that go beyond simple replication and that provide ways to bring up the entire IT environment online in the cloud so that employees can continue working no matter where they are. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What would be the impact (financial, reputation, lost productivity, etc.) of each hour of interruption to the practice if IT systems were to go down?
  2. How quickly can you get the systems (server, software, applications) back up and running if something were to happen?

These are the two main questions that will set the goals and expectations for your firm’s disaster recovery and business continuity plans. Then, take a look at your current IT infrastructure and the technology you are using today for backup, disaster recovery, replication, and any other products you have in place to achieve the goal of an always-on practice and ask the following:

  1. Can I quickly recover files, databases, or email messages in case someone accidentally deletes something important? How much time and effort does it take?
  2. If a server crashes, can I failover or virtualize this server in minutes to avoid any interruption?
  3. In case we lose power or something else happens that blocks access to the office, can employees connect remotely and continue working?

By honestly answering these three questions, you will get a feeling for how prepared you are to quickly recover from a potential disrupting event. But testing your plans, procedures, and technology regularly is a much better way to ensure the firm can continue operating in case of a major event. So think of the following:

  1. How regularly do you test your disaster recovery and business continuity plans?
  2. Can you test recovery operations and IT failover procedures without impacting production?
  3. Are the results of such tests disseminated to the rest of the company?

Alternatives to Replication
There are several technology options when it comes to setting up a disaster recovery and business continuity initiative. So if replication is not the best solution, then what is? Today, the cloud offers many options, including specific BC/DR solutions such as Axcient. But beware, as not all cloud solutions are the same. As you look for a cloud vendor that can ensure your firm is resilient, consider these aspects:

  1. Is the cloud vendor offering data backup only or full protection for data and applications?
  2. Can virtual and physical servers be protected with the solution without incurring additional costs?
  3. Is there a local appliance to provide a hybrid approach and faster recovery?
  4. Can multiple servers be quickly virtualized for failover procedures both locally and in the cloud?
  5. Is testing of recovery operations charged separately or part of the base service fees?

Although not a comprehensive questionnaire, these questions can give you a good starting point to separate vendors into different categories. For more information on cloud-based recovery options, feel free to reach out to us or check out the many free educational videos and white papers available at axcient.com/resources.

Daniel Kuperman