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Use geo-redundant backups for long-distance data protection

Storing duplicated data across multiple regions is a tried-and-true method of protection, but geo-redundant backup can bring its own set of complications.

Geographic redundancy is growing in popularity among data backup teams, especially as a form of natural disaster preparation. As climate change has become more apparent and extreme weather patterns more commonplace, the threats to traditional data storage and recovery practices are increasing.

Geo-redundant backup enables its users to duplicate critical infrastructure off site across multiple data centers in different regions. This strategy helps keep that data safe if the on-site data is lost or inaccessible and ensures there is no single point of failure.

"Geo-redundancy means you have the infrastructure resources to run a critical workload in more than just the primary data center," said Johnny Yu, an enterprise IT storage industry analyst at research firm IDC. "It is separate from having backup data stored somewhere and ready to recover. Instead, geo-redundancy refers to extra networking, storage and computing resources residing in a secondary data center ready to 'switch on' to handle a failover."

Geo-redundancy ensures continued protection, most of the time

In backup and disaster recovery, failover is the ability to automatically switch over to a redundant secondary site or the cloud when the primary server, application, hardware component or network is unavailable. Failover to a geo-redundant backup site can reduce downtime and eliminate some negative impact on end users, such as an inability to access critical data.

Data and application restoration is typically the territory of disaster recovery teams, but backup administrators must ensure there is an environment with which to recover.

Geo-redundancy facilitates a quick recovery by ensuring there are powered and networked servers on standby for the recovery software to work with.
Johnny YuEnterprise IT storage industry analyst, IDC

"Geo-redundancy facilitates a quick recovery by ensuring there are powered and networked servers on standby for the recovery software to work with," Yu said.

Just as data might be at risk at the primary site, backup data might also be in jeopardy if the geo-redundant location has extreme weather. The past two years have seen record snowfall totals, flooding and wildfires, as well as record temperature highs and lows in the U.S.

Climate change means these extreme weather conditions will only continue to worsen.

This puts tremendous strain on local infrastructures and power grids, so organizations must keep this in mind when they choose a location for geo-redundant backups.

Geo-redundant backup challenges

Any geo-redundant backup strategy should include compliance considerations. An organization's own data governance policy might have some restrictions on what data can be stored or accessed at secondary locations.

Due to regulations such as the GDPR, organizations might be unable to move personally identifiable information out of the country. If an organization has a redundant site across international borders, it must ensure it complies with the data backup laws of those countries as well as local regulations.

Geo-redundant backups can also pose cost challenges due to the need for additional hardware and physical backup site maintenance. Without budget approval from upper management, a geo-redundant backup plan won't get off the ground.

"The main challenge comes from justifying the cost of essentially running a second data center and finding ways to either make use of the extra infrastructure resources or somehow avoid paying for them when there's no disaster scenario unfolding," Yu said.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of overhead cost involved in backing up to a secondary site, since it requires duplicate hardware.

"Companies must pay to house the hardware somewhere, for cooling and power, for staff to maintain that hardware, and for upgrading that hardware when it becomes obsolete," Yu said.

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