Our recent Webinar, Modern business continuity for today’s local authorities, highlighted how the need for business continuity plans to be fit for purpose is more essential than ever before – especially given new ways of working and the importance of data in delivering vital services.
The webinar – which can be viewed on-demand here – offered insight into modern business continuity and disaster recovery (BC/DR) solutions and why now is the time for councils to question whether traditional approaches are still viable.
Paul Ingram, CIO, London Borough of Barking and Dagenham (LBBD), opened the discussion by detailing how the authority concluded that a new BC/DR solution was required.
Following a highly successful cloud migration project in 2016 that reduced cost and complexity, while improving resilience, it was recognised that a solid disaster recovery arrangement was required. “We had gained a lot of resilience and numerous other benefits, but we needed to address business continuity arrangements and disaster recovery in particular,” Paul said.
Paul went on to explain that following a risk assessment, the best option was to use Azure Site Recovery (ASR). This delivered a range of benefits for LBBD, including:
- Enhanced speed of recovery
- The fact that ASR continually replicates data
- Mitigation against supplier failure – “there have been examples in the past where data centre providers have gone down at short notice and local government organisations have had a really stressful time trying to extract their systems,” Paul explained
- ASR fitted with the authority’s migration to public cloud strategy
- I supplemented rather than replace backups in terms of the risk that it covers.
Conversation then moved onto modern, remote ways of working and the sheer volume of data and multitude of systems that need to work hand-in-hand, and how this is making traditional BC/DR solutions less relevant and even obsolete.
“The big change towards mobile and remote working is definitely a common challenge when it comes to business continuity,” explained David Wild, Cloud Partner at Agilisys.
“Even the organisations that have comprehensive backup and recovery processes that they test regularly, they tend to be focused on restoring two or three applications at a time. Now, with staff are working remotely – social care workers very rarely come back to the office to access their information – it raises the question of what you do in the in the event of a disaster recovery? It’s no longer about how you recover four applications for your service, but how you recover an entire organisation’s systems.”
Paul added: “With the traditional disaster recovery arrangement where you were taking a load of tapes to somebody else’s site and restoring 200 to 300 systems and 80 plus terabytes of user data, in our case, you could get back up and running, but it’s not going to happen quickly. We just can’t afford to be down for days and weeks while we unpick it and try and get systems back together. We need the fast recovery that we get with ASR.
“We are utterly dependent on our systems. We just can’t run the council without them for any extended period of time. Or if we can, then the service levels and the services that we’re able to provide to our citizens will be at a much, much lower level, which is just not something we could countenance.”
How LBBD went about implementing their ASR solution was then discussed, with conversation focusing on speed of deployment.
David explained: “Legacy systems, which can be years old often involve complex systems with a lot of infrastructure. Modern solutions are cloud-based, so you don’t need any specialist network connectivity. It’s about installing an agent on every machine. Then we can start synchronising, pretty much real time, into the cloud.
“Once the synchronisation has started, apart from looking at it every so often to make sure it’s happening correctly, it’s almost maintenance free. We can typically get ASR up and running within a five-week period from first conversation. Depending on the size of the infrastructure, it can take two or three months to get all of the data up into the cloud, but the actual effort expended is small while that’s happening.”
Further topics discussed during the webinar included:
- Security standards and regulations that ASR meets
- Deploying resource – internally and externally – to a project such as this
- The need to ensure the right skills are in place
- How ASR is constantly being developed in order to keep pace with requirements
- The minimal maintenance and testing requirements of an ASR solution
- How ASR can be used to deal with sophisticated cyber-attacks alongside traditional offline backup solutions
- How to get data back
Paul finished the discussion by outlining his one single piece of advice that has stood LBBD in good stead and guided digital transformation over the last few years.
“If I had a single expression or phrase that I would use as a guide for people, it’s if you make the decision to go into cloud, make the decision and either do it or don’t. Most of the pain points that we’ve had along this journey, and most of the pain points that I see others having, are the result of having one foot in each camp. As long as you’re a bit on-premise and a bit in the cloud, it’s a painful place to be.
“The reason that it’s worked so well isn’t particularly because we in IT really think the cloud-first is the way to go, it’s because people in IT are now free to focus on the things that add value to front-facing services.”
The webinar concluded with the opportunity for attendees to pose questions to the panel, including:
Are there any safeguards against crypto locker viruses, for example to spot a very high volume of write activity (above an established norm)? Could this alert and/or pause replication?
No. ASR does not analyse the replicating traffic and replicates data to cloud storage continuously. Monitoring is included to provide visibility of the replication processes and does not have alerting that would protect against malware or encrypted data. As mentioned in the panel discussion, it is important to maintain a backup solution that enables multiple restoration points to enable failover to a last known good version of your data.
Does ASR provide for ‘incrementals’, as a disk backup could?
No, ASR provides a near real-time replication of your data. Replication is continuous and is designed to enable a rapid failover of services. As Paul Ingram mentioned, ASR is a Business Continuity solution, and isn’t recommended to replace a regular backup system.
Would Express Route be the recommendation or the corporate Internet pipe for replicating to ASR?
ASR is accessible across the Internet; it is also possible to use an ExpressRoute circuit to transfer replication traffic to ASR storage accounts. Dependent on what is available, we use either type of connectivity. We typically recommend the Internet to provide the fastest deployment route where ExpressRoute is not already in place, we can also throttle replication traffic to reduce or eliminate bandwidth issues.