Using Continuous Data Protection Across Remote Locations for Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery

Efficiently sharing and managing the backup of data are common problems facing every organization, especially those with multiple, geographically-dispersed sites. Providing an adequate solution to both problems can be a vexing challenge. Businesses are under increased pressure from users and from auditors to facilitate secure, reliable, and auditable data transfer with near instantaneous access, data reliability, version coherency, and file security.

Organizations have commonly centralized data using wide area network (WAN) technology to connect multiple locations to the central file server. However, unless the sites are very close together, WAN communication becomes a bottleneck as the number of users and the file sizes grow. Network acceleration technologies alleviate some of the performance pains by supporting caching of data or reducing network “chatter.” However, these solutions cannot scale to meet burgeoning file sizes and volumes. Thus, many businesses resort to copying data between multiple locations so that it can be accessed locally at each site.

This duplication of data introduces several problems. LAN environments have no means to prevent two people in two different locations from inadvertently modifying the same document. Moreover, since each location has different copies of datasets, how do you know you are working on the most up-to-date version? Companies have to be very careful that all the changes are included in the master version of the file.

Another factor affecting data at multiple locations is the lack of IT support at every site, which means that each site might have its own backup methodology. In many cases, someone outside of the IT department in the branch office is responsible for running the backup each night and in all likelihood bringing the tapes offsite. There is an inherent risk in allowing numerous individuals to remove confidential business information and keep it in their car or at home. Besides the security issue, a large window of time between backups can occur. If the backup is only run each evening, then any data that has been added or changed during that entire day will be lost if a failure occurs.

To avoid this problem, some organizations have adopted appliance-based solutions that centralize all data in one location, forcing staff to take a step backwards in terms of file performance. No one wants to wait around for several minutes before they can begin working on a project. Thus, organizations face a conundrum: How do we secure corporate data at one location while still giving users the ability to quickly distribute and share content?

Security and Access

By combining wide area file services (WAFS) with new continuous data protection (CDP) technology, organizations can have content readily available at branch offices so that users can access and modify content on the spot and backups are performed continually as data is changed. This method is an economical way to protect data by capturing and mirroring all changes at the byte level to minimize the file transfer size as they occur. Organizations can back up any number of remote servers to one or more centrally located systems, over any connection. Continuous, real-time backups are made from each branch office to a secure location without the need for physical tapes or back up windows, yet the control over backups remains safely with IT staff.

Typically, organizations managing smaller data sets at remote offices have already converted to WAFS. However, those managing many terabytes of data have held back since it was cost-prohibitive and time-consuming to continuously update such large files. But when using WAFS solutions that perform byte-level differences, the file is backed up to a central location, with only the bytes associated with file changes crossing the WAN. This file transfer method enables even businesses sharing very large files to achieve continuous file backup and availability in real time. In addition, it is important for WAFS solutions to incorporate full file locking to eliminate any chance of one user overwriting the changes of another.

WAFS also resolves a common problem of lost files. If, for example, a user discovers that he somehow lost or erased a file, locating and recovering that file with traditional backup would be very time-consuming. This would involve notifying the person in charge of tape backup, locating and bringing that tape back on site, and restoring the files. Alternatively, WAFS solutions allow for data recovery on a file-by-file basis. This solution provides either front-line help desk staff or end users with the appropriate credentials with the ability to restore a specific file easily via a basic Web interface - vastly reducing the window of time for recovery.

Emergency Failover

Companies are also leveraging this technology for emergency failover. If a disaster occurs, users can be redirected to another server for business continuity. Ideally, this failover should be completely transparent to users. WAFS software is set up so that when the server comes back online, it is automatically updated with only the changes that occurred while it was “offline,” instead of having to rebuild the system with a long and arduous comparison of the file structure.

By bringing together CDP and WAFS technology, businesses are guaranteed accessibility and reliability of critical information such as financial data, medical records, CAD drawings, legal records and more.