After the events of Sept. 11, the IT world was forced to look at the protection of corporate data systems in a new light. Disaster recovery and business continuity became watchwords of the enterprise, and budgets began to form within weeks. However, it is important to realize that many of the current disaster recovery products on the market offer a myriad of potential uses and advantages for the enterprise customer. Here’s a closer look at how the other advantages offer cost justification beyond their disaster recovery functions.

High availability can streamline maintenance
As we all know, system failure is not the only reason a system needs to be taken offline. One very common reason to install high availability (HA) systems—where multiple physical systems can stand in for one another—is to ease the rollout of new hardware, software, and upgrades. In the 24/7 work world we live in, system maintenance windows are critically short, if they exist at all. Finding the time to perform these vital tasks is difficult at best.

Paying techs overtime to perform maintenance at odd hours makes sense in some scenarios, but it is expensive and can be prohibitive during major systems upgrades. HA can be cost justified in the reduction of off-hour procedures that need to be performed, since upgrades can be scheduled in conjunction with testing failover systems on a regular basis.

During maintenance of the main systems, applications and users can be moved seamlessly to the backup hardware using the failover processes built into the HA tools. Then, administrators can bring the main systems back online, failback the apps and users to those main systems, and then upgrade the backup hardware.

Replication can ease company moves and changes
As offices and even entire companies are consolidating, personnel moves and server consolidation projects can create logistical and fiscal nightmares for all concerned. Disaster recovery (DR) software can often assist in making these moves as painless as possible. For example, when moving personnel from a branch office to a central location, DR systems can make that move seamless and reduce the work hours and expenses needed to accomplish the task. Replication software can allow the corporate data to move from the branch office to the headquarters, and then the software can continue to keep the data updated in real time at the headquarters as the users continue to work at the branch office, connected to local servers.

At the prearranged time, workers can move to their new computers at their new location and connect to the servers there, finding their data exactly the same as it was on the systems they just left. In effect, the move of data was completely transparent to the end user, allowing technical staff members to plan and perform the move on their schedule. This advantage also means that the IT staff can concentrate on the technology issues surrounding the move and not worry about dealing with end-user acclimation issues for the most part.

Plus, after the move is over, you can take the boneyard of old systems and create a Storage Area Network (SAN) for data warehousing using the same software you just used for the migration.

Enhancing backup strategies
Of course, DR and HA systems can greatly enhance existing investments in backup solutions and software. As a prime example, let’s consider Generic Technologies Inc. (GTI), a fictitious company that has a corporate headquarters and three branch offices. Each of the four offices has a tape backup system that backs up the Microsoft Exchange server and file and print servers found at each location.

Except for the headquarters, the backup jobs are controlled by the office managers of the branches. These managers often have minimal technology training and little time to monitor the backup systems. A quick survey of the branch offices shows that one branch has never changed the tape in the drive, one has indeed been backing up properly, and the third has been getting an error message every day about skipped files, but the techs didn’t know what to do about it.

GTI decided to use its new DR initiative to enhance its backup systems and centralize the way it protects its data. Because the DR systems move all the data in real time to the headquarters for storage and HA purposes, there is an exact and up-to-the-second replica of the data in a central location. The replica can be used to back up all the data in the company in one fell swoop. By using readily available add-ons to its backup software, GTI was able to turn all the tape devices from the branch offices into a single DLT array at the headquarters and run backup jobs off of its central data store.

As a result, there are no more time windows for backups because the backups are not being performed from end-user machines. Also, IT staff can monitor the backups because the backups can now be completed during the day. This means errors can be caught and corrected immediately without losing data backups in the process. Also, because there are no end-user applications running on the servers while the backups progress, they tend to move faster and involve less CPU usage.

Bottom line
DR solutions can offer a company more advantages besides business continuity. With a little planning and the right set of add-ons, an enterprise can more than double its return on investment (ROI) on DR products. We all hope that there will never be a time when we need to use DR solutions for their primary purpose. Fortunately, we have peace of mind knowing that DR tools are in place providing concrete and immediate benefits even if disaster never strikes.

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