Addressing the critical need to protect data

David Wild, Cloud Partner at Agilisys, discusses why disaster recovery plans put in place more than two or three years ago don’t meet the needs of today’s organisations – and how modern solutions better address the challenges faced by local authorities.

During any period of disruption, the need for organisations to have modern, robust business continuity processes is absolutely essential. This is especially true in the public sector, where day-to-day services are relied on by the public – and therefore need to be maintained.

For many organisations across the public sector, the coronavirus crisis has brought this topic very much to the fore, leading to business continuity and disaster recovery (BC/DR) strategies being reviewed. Local authorities are recognising the need to protect their data while at the same time having robust processes that get critical services back up and running as quickly as possible if an outage occurs.

However, legacy BC/DR solutions may be providing a false sense of security, according to David Wild, Cloud Partner at Agilisys. “As organisations respond to the coronavirus outbreak, many are pulling their business continuity plans out of the cupboard, blowing the dust off them, and realising that they haven’t been looked at for so long – they’re no longer viable because the technology used is reaching end of life and is becoming obsolete, or they no longer meet the needs of their key services.

The fact of the matter is that BC/DR plans that are more than two or three years old cannot meet the needs of today’s agile, remote working organisations.

The problem has been compounded in recent years by the impact of austerity. Legacy BC/DR solutions are complicated and time consuming, as a result, most councils don’t have the capacity to maintain them.”

David points out that this is happening at a time when protection of critical data has never been so important, and the volume of data being shared is growing at unprecedented levels.

“In the current real time, information driven age, where flexible and remote working has become prevalent (and will be long after the coronavirus outbreak has subsided), many organisations simply cannot work effectively without access to their systems,” he says. “Paper- and tape-based fallback procedures just aren’t up to the task, especially as legacy IT infrastructure is making failures a more regular occurrence, disrupting the way we work.

And this is all happening against the backdrop of a pandemic where more data is being collected and shared across multiple agencies than ever before.

End of life technology creates risks, proves costly

David says that, as a result of the current situation, he’s seeing a surge in interest around modern cloud-based data protection and recovery solutions.

“The traditional BC/DR model involves a tape library, and a robot that feeds the hundreds of tapes that are sat in a rack into tape drives every night. That’s clunky, slow and requires somebody on-site to manage the process and hand tapes to couriers, who take them off into storage. Clearly this isn’t an ideal solution given the current circumstances.”

“This old-school process is also an expensive one because you’re couriering tapes around and you need a fallback data centre on a retainer; a typical unitary authority will spend £150,000+ per annum, plus management costs. A modern cloud-based DR approach will typically deliver annual savings of 50% or more compared with traditional tape storage and a standby data centre.”

David adds that service delivery in local authorities usually relies on interoperability of data and multiple applications interlinking at the same time – so getting one system back doesn’t always mean you can start working normally again. Given legacy methods of recovery tend to restore working order system by system or application by application, this can be a problem.

So too is the problem around point of data recovery, as David points out. “With tape-based recovery you’ll only restore to where you last saved data. Instantly, you’ll lose a day’s worth of data if your recovery point objective is 24 hours, and that’s before you add recovery time, which could be days or weeks, once you have your hands on the right tapes.

“Thanks to modern cloud-based infrastructure, data is protected and synchronised 24 hours a day, with a much faster recovery time of a couple of hours, so the data loss is minimal. That’s vital now with fast-moving data related to Covid-19 and vulnerable people – it’s easy to see why minimising data loss is so high on the agenda for local authorities.”

Putting disaster recovery into practice

One example of a local authority successfully adopting modern disaster recovery infrastructure is the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham (LBBD).

“After migrating to the cloud, it became clear that its existing legacy DR plans were no longer fit for purpose and that a cloud-based business continuity solution was needed to protect critical data and enable the local ICT team to manage the solution,” explains David.

“Working with the local team, Agilisys deployed Azure Site Recovery (ASR), a cloud-based solution that works within existing infrastructure to backup server images and data to the cloud, enabling rapid recovery of services.

Overall, more than 230 servers were successfully synchronised to Microsoft Azure with ASR, resulting in annual savings approaching 50% compared to LBBD’s legacy solution.”

New solutions that are fit for purpose

Crucially, the DR solution implemented by LBBD enables rapid testing of data – a key benefit of modern cloud-based business continuity infrastructure according to David.

“Many traditional backup solutions need daily on-premise maintenance, to stay up to date. Retrieving information can be incredibly complex and challenging – so understandably it often falls between the cracks. As a result, if you’re relying on an old tape backup solution and it hasn’t been tested recently (we’ve seen examples when it has never been tested!) you’re going to feel quite nervous about the critical data that your organisation holds.

“Using the latest solutions, we can stand up machines for a couple of hours, prove that they’re working and then turn them off at very small cost, without disrupting normal working or invoking a standby data centre. This negates the need to move people to external locations to prove that backups and business continuity plans actually work.”

David concludes by pointing out that organisations have, more than ever, a critical need to protect information across the organisation, especially given the volume of data an authority handles will only increase.

“If a local authority is relying on traditional backup solutions to provide its business continuity, they could be paralysed for weeks, while they’re trying to recover their services, if they do indeed recover them at all,” he says. “At which point, services may well have collapsed.

“With a modern BC/DR solution an authority can be back up and running in hours and days rather than weeks and months, something that will be very much welcome as organisations everywhere face further disruption – from coronavirus and any other events that cause disruption down the line.”

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