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A burst of business continuity, disaster recovery planning

Explosives maker Austin Powder played with virtualization, and an idea for its business continuity and disaster recovery planning ignited: Make HQ a hot site for remote offices.

Austin Powder Co., an explosives maker founded in 1833, blasted through a virtualization project in 2010 to find a new idea for its business continuity and disaster recovery planning -- making its Cleveland headquarters the hot site for its three remote data centers.

Unlike the way they reacted to an initiative to upgrade to T1 lines four years ago, Austin Powder's computer users didn't see the benefits of virtualization -- but Chris Benco, network administrator, sure did. "We started playing with virtualization because it was an emerging technology," he said. "In hindsight, it saved us money and we gained flexibility."

The company virtualized about 30, or 90%, of its servers using Microsoft's Hyper-V environment, and now has one test and three production Hyper-V host servers up and running. "The plan is to put in an HA[high-availability] cluster for the main data center and implement FalconStor virtual appliances, as well as Hyper-V at the remote data centers to allow us to become DR here for our remote sites," Benco said.

Life after consolidation through virtualization

Adventurous virtualized architectures like Austin Powder's are increasing in popularity, according to experts. "The concept of virtualization absolutely affects business continuity and disaster recovery planning, producing a fundamental change in the architecture of IT," said Dick Csaplar, senior research analyst for virtualization and storage at Aberdeen Group Inc., a research firm in Boston. "The ease with which virtual servers can be imaged and replicated to servers at remote locations provides an additional level of security," he wrote in a report about off-site storage this month.

We started playing with virtualization because it was an emerging technology. In hindsight, it saved us money and we gained flexibility.

Chris Benco, network administrator, Austin Powder Co.

CIOs and other IT executives have been looking for lower costs through virtualization because that was the benefit preached in an era of "consolidating, squeezing, compressing and compacting in a tightened economy," said Greg Schulz, founder and senior advisor to The Server and StorageIO Group, an IT consultancy in Stillwater, Minn.

But what IT departments are finding in the virtualization tunnel is rich: "It's about life after consolidation," Schulz said, "learning to use virtualization as a tool other than for how many VMs you can run on a machine" to achieve the new benefits of extraction, transparency, flexibility and agility. "Not all servers can be consolidated, but most can be virtualized," he said.

With disaster recovery, the mind-set has been to rebuild and restore using shared storage in a virtualized environment. This way, the IT staff can proactively fail over. During hurricane season on the Carolina coast, for example, a workload could be moved swiftly to a host hundreds of miles away. "DR is a cost like insurance," Schulz said. "Typically, you get nothing back. With BC, you can actually use it to leverage that ability for load balancing and better infrastructure resource management."

Shared storage key to business continuity and disaster recovery

Austin Powder chose Melville, N.Y.-based FalconStor Software Inc's Network Storage Server (NSS) as its primary storage-area-network solution. The company runs two FalconStor NSS appliances in its Hyper-V environment for "better local availability and to eliminate a single point of failure," Benco said. The shared storage helps a lot in a virtualized environment, he added, making it easier to clone servers and move workloads on the fly among the hosts for maintenance or disaster recovery.

The NSS virtual appliances enable remote data replication by taking snapshots of the database and replicating only changes to lessen demand for bandwidth. The danger with using snapshots, according to Aberdeen's Csaplar, is that you may lose some data between the time of a crash and the last picture taken. You could develop a problem ten minutes before the end of a two-hour snapshot cycle, for example, and lose that one hour and fifty minutes.

Chi Corp., a FalconStor channel partner headquartered in Cleveland, helped integrate the NSS appliances and Symantec Corp.'s Backup Exec to provide backup and disaster recovery for all business-critical applications, including Sybase Inc. and Microsoft SQL Server databases and email. Austin Powder's business continuity and disaster recovery planning also includes a traditional disaster recovery partnership with SunGard Data Systems Inc. for an AS/400 server.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Laura Smith, Features Writer.

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