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It's a new age for hot site disaster recovery

Hot sites are a viable disaster recovery strategy, but high costs and changing DR risks have made alternatives like disaster recovery as a service a more appealing option.

Not too long ago, the gold standard for IT preparedness was having a dedicated facility for hot site disaster recovery. Now, at a time when bullet-proof, interruption-free IT is even more critical, the traditional hot site disaster recovery facility is less talked about.

But many organizations still have their battle-ready sites set up, mirroring every function of their primary data center in minute detail. But other, more nuanced means of addressing business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) have been evolving rapidly to occupy some of the traditional hot site disaster recovery space.

Phil Goodwin, research director at IDC, said there is still a case for hot site DR. "Hot sites are definitely still a 'thing' and are used predominantly in the financial services industry or other established, mature industries, where they have been in place for a long time, " he said.

Is hot site DR up to the task?

Organizations likely to use hot sites still typically operate in-house data centers and, because of the need for uptime, they rely on a redundant data center with data replication and seamless failover. Typically, those sites feature load balancing between the two and special communication pipelines to provide enough bandwidth. "That means they are expensive and will be used for the most critical applications and those that require maximum or near continuous uptime, " Goodwin said.

Goodwin said that these days, more businesses are moving to a hybrid model. If they do require a hot site, they are likely using cloud for DR requirements, particularly for non-mission-critical systems.

Christophe Bertrand, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, shared data from a study, "Real World SLAs and Availability Requirements," based on responses from IT organizations earlier this year. Approximately 65% of respondents came from enterprises with 1,000 or more employees.

Relevant observations from the study include the following:

  • of the respondents, 15% cannot tolerate any downtime for mission-critical systems;
  • on average, 42% of applications are still hosted on premises;
  • one hour seems to be the maximum downtime most organizations can tolerate for "normal," noncritical applications; and
  • the largest percentage of respondents rely on cloud for BCDR, with those owning and operating their own hot site representing the second largest cohort.

Taken together, Bertrand said, these data points and the other findings of the study show that BCDR is very important to organizations, but many are becoming less willing to make hefty investments in traditional hot site disaster recovery. Some are even considering stepping back from in-house BCDR and looking more at disaster recovery-as-a-service (DRaaS) options.

"DRaaS is one of the fastest growing markets in the industry," Goodwin said. "The trend is actually being accelerated by the pandemic, because more and more organizations see strength in the cloud and an opportunity to free up IT people to do other tasks."

Disaster recovery sites

What kind of BCDR is right for an organization?

According to Naveen Chhabra, senior analyst at Forrester Research, the best approach an organization can take when deciding on a BCDR strategy -- especially when it comes to hot sites -- is to understand the current risks. "Ten years ago, we talked about wildfires as a once-in-a-decade risk; now they are twice as frequent and more intense, " he said. Similarly, cyberthreats have increased significantly in recent years.

"Risks are changing in intensity and frequency, so organizations must be prepared," Chhabra said.

Organizations must then drill down and determine exactly which apps are needed and the optimal recovery point objective and recovery time objective.

"In essence, you need to do a business risk assessment on each of those applications and then figure how to deliver the uptime you need," Chhabra said. The bottom line: A hot site is no longer a fix you simply slap onto your business.

The fact of the matter is, if you need a hot site, you probably already have one.
Phil GoodwinResearch director, IDC

"The fact of the matter is, if you need a hot site, you probably already have one," Goodwin said. There are many alternatives for sustaining those mission-critical applications to consider. "By our estimation, there are several thousand cloud providers that offer some kind of DRaaS, ranging from the DIY end of the scale to white glove service," he said.

Equally important, many of these services are focused on the needs of specific industries or applications. For example, Goodwin said, if you are in retail, manufacturing or at a smaller financial services organization like a community bank, there are clouds that cater to that specific market. "They will know the type of SLAs you need, and they will be geared to deliver that, " he said.

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