Prepare Your Customers For Disaster Recovery
Many enterprise companies still do not have adequate disaster recovery plans. Here's how to sell them one.
Companies are interested in disaster recovery. That's not news. Ever since Sept. 11, 2001, companies have been looking for ways to ensure their data and mission-critical applications are protected in the event of a disaster. But here is something you may not know: Most large companies, right up to some of the biggest enterprises, still do not have adequate disaster recovery plans in place. "You would be very surprised," says Andy Williams, VP and general manager at integrator Diversified Computer Services, Inc. (DCS) (Alpharetta, GA). "A lot of companies have plans in place, but the plan is to have a courier come by every morning at 8:30 and pick up the data tapes."
Many companies think if something happens, they are safe because they have their tapes. Unfortunately, that is not the case. "When companies test those tapes in remote environments, they find it will take up to a week to create a remote environment and retrieve data and applications from the tapes," says Williams. "It's amazing how many large organizations still depend on tape media for disaster recovery as opposed to taking further steps to actually implement a disaster recovery plan."
Williams believes two trends continue to drive end user interest in true disaster recovery solutions. The first is the lingering effects of Sept. 11, 2001. Executives are now concerned about entire data centers being wiped out. At the same time, executives are becoming more aware of the cost of downtime. "Downtime is a concern for all companies, be it minutes, hours, or days," says Williams. "Many of our customers started out with a single server, but over the years more servers and storage devices were added. This evolution has led to larger networks and greater concern over downtime."
Even though concern exists over disaster recovery plans, not many companies are climbing over each other to implement plans. A lack of knowledge about disaster recovery is one reason, as is the cost of implementing such a solution. So how should VARs sell disaster recovery plans to their customers?
Prepare A Disaster Recovery Plan
"The first thing we do is sit down with a customer and determine what applications are essential to the operation of the business," says Williams. DCS will classify applications into three categories: mission critical (an online reservation system), business critical (an accounting or payroll system), and run the business (other non-critical back office functions). "Prioritization is essential to ensure applications can be recovered in the proper order in the event of a disaster," he says. "It's what helps companies reduce downtime of critical applications."
Once applications are classified, DCS will go over those applications with the customer to determine how long each can afford to be down. "Many mission-critical applications cannot afford any downtime at all, such as those running an airline reservation system or a brokerage house," says Williams. "Those applications need to be available on a backup system in an off-site data or recovery center so they can immediately be brought back up. Business-critical applications can be brought back up the next day or within 48 hours, while most run-the-business applications can afford to be down for up to a week."
Design An Integrated Disaster Recovery Platform
Once applications are classified and acceptable downtime levels determined, DCS will help customers design a disaster recovery infrastructure. While this process varies from customer to customer, there are two basic approaches. One is a lights-out approach, where a company has disaster recovery servers sitting in a remote facility backing up the data. If there is a disaster, the lights in the backup facility are turned on, a switch is flipped, and the data is available.
A second approach, which has recently been gaining in popularity, calls for companies to integrate their disaster recovery plans into their overall systems architecture. This allows companies to use their disaster recovery assets in their processing environments. "Rather than letting your backup resources sit idle, you can incorporate those assets into your IT environment for development and testing while they continue to back up your data on a regular basis," says Williams. This explanation seems to beg the question; Why wouldn't a customer integrate disaster recovery resources into daily operations? "A lot of customers just don't think about it," says Williams. "They have a mentality that a disaster recovery infrastructure can't be used for anything else."
Sell A Disaster Recovery Package
Williams stresses that building a disaster recovery solution for companies can take time. "There are a series of steps customers can take over time," he says. "Sometimes this process can take years. Our job is to work with the customer to eventually get them up to full readiness."
DCS will work with a company's IT team to develop a phase plan. The phase plan is important because if VARs present the total disaster recovery solution to customers in one fell swoop, Williams believes they will say it is too expensive and they cannot afford it. Resellers need to phase in an architecture with an end business goal in mind.
"If a customer decides they want to have an off-site data recovery center, that's great," he says. "But a lot of intermediate steps need to be taken before you start building that center. It's important for a company to budget for every phase of the project to be able to afford it. For most medium- to large-sized companies, we look at this as a two- or three-year program. If you try to do it too fast, it can choke an organization."
Consolidate Storage With A SAN
DCS recommends every customer undertake a storage consolidation. An average DCS customer might have 100 NT, UNIX, and Linux servers. Each server has its own processor and storage. "Companies have to manage their storage better," says Williams. "As they begin to manage it better, they are in a position to create a process that will allow them to recover from any number of disaster scenarios."
A storage consolidation typically involves building a storage area network (SAN). A SAN consolidates storage resources in one location and allows every server access to those resources. "Many larger companies have a SAN in place for mission-critical applications, but they might have another 200 servers, each with its own storage, which administrators also need to manage," says Williams. "Companies might have a SAN to run their CRM [customer relationship management] and ERP [enterprise resource planning] solutions, but other mission-critical applications like e-mail are not a part of that storage network."
With the SAN in place, users can start mirroring data to another site. If a company's campus is large enough, DCS recommends the backup center be located on the same campus. If not, an alternative site must be located. DCS looks for a site located on a hospital grid. "A hospital grid is the power grid local hospitals are on," explains Williams. "Those grids are the first pieces of infrastructure to come back alive after a disaster. We locate a disaster recovery site in an area where that grid exists, or we find a building already on the grid being shared by other companies." DCS has been working with companies such as Cable & Wireless USA (Vienna, VA) and Level 3 Communications (Broomfield, CO) to provide customers with shared data center resources.
Disaster Recovery Sells
Thus far, the DCS approach to selling disaster recovery has been a success. "We have one customer that had been sending tapes to an off-site facility," says Williams. "Once a quarter, the company would attempt to recover data from the tapes. In four consecutive attempts, never once did they get the data loaded in a 48-hour period. They finally came to us when they realized this was not a good plan." Recently, that same customer did a test of its new outsourced recovery service. The systems kept running, and employees did not even notice they were running on a backup system.
The greatest share of DCS' revenue is in storage, a business that has grown at a compounded rate of 50% per year over the last three years. Selling disaster recovery has also caused the company's product mix to switch from server attached storage to SAN and disaster recovery services. "Customer interest in SANs and disaster recovery is very high, and the margins are better as well," says Williams. "As long as customer interest remains high, we will continue to provide those solutions."