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A disaster recovery plan meets cloud computing

David Shacochis, vice president, research and development at IT provider Savvis Inc., reminded me the other day that there is a big difference between a disaster recovery (DR) plan and business continuity, even though many forget the distinction.

A business continuity plan is your company’s prescription for things that you can expect to go wrong: components will fail, servers will fail, network outages are going to happen, IT professionals make mistakes. Disaster recovery is your plan for the things you can’t anticipate. “If you’re doing this Calvin and Hobbes scenario, where planes are falling from the sky, that is when you’re talking a disaster recovery plan,” Shacochis said.

Savvis, with 29 data centers, likes to boast it is has built the architecture required to give companies business continuity, which in turn gets rolled into its standardized services. “Virtually all our products have a high-availability option that can be added on for pennies on the dollar,” he said. And many customers use those services as their DR site.

But the premise of a DR-in-a-box solution — promised by various providers — is, in his view, untenable.

“We don’t really know what your requirements are, we don’t really know what the nightmare scenario will be, you’re not really implementing anything with us, but trust us, when you pick up the phone we’ll be there, and we’ll get you a data center in a heartbeat,” Shacochis said. “Those sorts of services are not that difficult to sell because there are a lot of people who want to believe that they exist. But they are very difficult to execute on.”

In fact, Savvis has not gone to market with a catchall DR solution yet. “We don’t really believe that the process maturity across so many different customers is there, or the standardization across so many different architectures is there that would allow us to do it,” Shacochis said.

Shacochis, however, believes that there will be a really elegant solution that will ultimately be cheaper than the present multi-tiered DR solutions and better. His idea is that the kind of cloud computing platform that Savvis is building in its labs will enable it — eventually — to offer DR that is standardized, flexible and cost-attractive enough to customers to make it worthwhile. Shacochis envisions a platform that can function as a complete cloud data center.

“All the typical IT resources you get in a physical data center, we’re going to be building in a platform that will allow you to provision not just your compute resources on the network, but to provision actual data center topologies for routing, switching, security, load balancing and failover features, as well as computing, storage and storage lifecycle management resources that are all running in a software-based context that you can control over a portal, and eventually control via a software API,” he said.

The beauty of that model, he says, is that companies could provision their entire cloud application stack, get it up and implemented and then turn it off.

“That really would be a cloud DR model, where the customer is paying a small percentage of what they would ordinarily pay for production, and they would have a highly functional and easy to executive DR plan.”

When will we see this? He thinks it’s a year or two off. Sounds good to me.

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