Disaster Recovery Should Plan for WAN

Any IT manager can tick off a handful of recent events that make disaster recovery (DR) a top IT priority. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Asian tsunami, tornados this spring in Kansas, and, of course, 9/11 all empathically state the case. No need for in-depth ROI studies. Say “Katrina” and the C-level executives will find the funds.

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However, are these plans as well thought out as they should be? According to Kevin Hoehnbrink, product manager at F5 Networks, a provider of application acceleration equipment, too many DR plans miss the point.

“I try to remind people that disaster recovery is just a component of a larger, ongoing issue—business continuity,” he said.

It doesn’t take an earthquake, hurricane, or terrorist attack to impact business continuity. Applications that don’t perform well, especially across the WAN, is something IT sees every day, and it can cause just as many problems as a disaster.

Worrying about unforeseen disasters is important, but figuring out how to get your applications to overcome latency challenges so they’ll work as well at branch offices as at headquarters is a more pressing challenge.

Bandwidth: The Ongoing Problem

This is where WAN optimization comes into play. It can boost application performance over the WAN and serve as a delivery foundation for DR. Despite its promise, WAN optimization is still a technology that escapes the notice of many IT managers and CIOs.

Although the space is fairly crowded—including incumbents like Cisco, Juniper, and Packeteer who’ve all entered the space through acquisitions and startups such as Expand Networks, F5, Riverbed, and Silver Peak Systems—the technology isn’t as accepted as it should be.

“There definitely needs to be more market awareness,” said Robert Whiteley, a senior analyst with Forrester Research. “Too many CIOs are unaware of new technologies and are still just looking at the network.”

With a network-only viewpoint, capacity planning uses peak traffic as a threshold. To guarantee enough bandwidth, you add capacity for, say, double that of peak times and consider yourself protected.

“When you think about a full-blown disaster recovery situation, capacity needs will be well beyond your peak traffic,” Whiteley said.

WAN optimization helps you to meet your DR capacity needs without expensive, last-minute bandwidth outlays. In the case of a disaster, you can realistically accommodate that new load without adding a new link that will cost you $5,000 a month or so, but only if you have the right technologies in place.

A recent Forrester study on DR and the WAN found that nearly a third of the costs associated with DR plans go directly to bandwidth. Even worse, a majority of those polled in the study said that a lack of bandwidth prevented them from extending backup protection to remote sites. Since fewer and fewer organizations rely on offsite tape vaulting for DR, WAN-related issues become more pressing and more limiting.

In the wake of disaster planning awareness, many organizations are forming enterprise risk management (ERM) groups. As a result, issues like business continuity gain visibility beyond IT. ERM is quick to advocate having a failsafe in place and, for business continuity, that failsafe is technology.

But technology can only do so much. While C-level executives may believe you can simply drop DR/BC equipment into place, it’s not that simple. “Disaster recovery and business continuity are more than anything else about processes and procedures,” Whiteley said. “With certain innovations in technology, you can automate many processes, but it soon becomes obvious that an unreliable communications medium, the WAN, is the weak link that could undermine even the best plans.”

For instance, backup and recovery strategies require data to be replicated offsite, but if the WAN can’t support the traffic, all of that planning falls short of expected goals.

“Making Exchange work at a branch office is one thing. Achieving complete failover and disaster recovery is another,” Whiteley warned.