What is DRaaS and how it can save your business from disaster

Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS) enables companies of all sizes to safely backup their data in the cloud and quickly recover from a natural disaster, cyberattack or unplanned outage

Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS) provides data replication, hosting, and recovery services from the cloud in the event of a disaster, power outage, ransomware attack, or other business interruption.

DRaaS backs up data, applications, and IT infrastructure to the cloud, with providers typically having geographically dispersed data center footprints. In the event of a disaster, the business will failover to the DRaaS provider’s data center in a different region. 

As opposed to traditional disaster recovery methods, which require businesses to operate an off-site DR facility, DRaaS shifts that burden to service providers, and, thus, expands the market beyond the large enterprises that could afford such capital-intensive setups.

The DRaaS market is a sprawling, complicated one, with hundreds of providers offering a wide range of different approaches that replicate everything from data and virtual machines (VMs) to on-premises servers and mainframes.

Ransomware, DDoS attacks, natural disasters drive DRaaS adoption

High-profile disasters such as Hurricane Sandy, the California wildfires, and the Texas power grid outage highlight the need for recovery services that are located far enough away from an organization’s main data center that a large disaster will not impact both locations.

Furthermore, recent high-profile ransomware attacks, such as those against Colonial Pipeline and the City of Atlanta, and DDoS attacks, such as those Russia launched against Ukraine before it invaded, point to the necessity of having DR plans that cover more than just natural disasters.

The need for reliable failover is heightened by the fact that the cost of an outage increases each year.  A 2020 survey by the Uptime Institute found that not only do data center outages occur with “disturbing frequency” – one third of respondents admitted to having a “major outage” in the past 12 months – but one in six respondents also reported that a recent outage cost them more than $1 million.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) paints an even starker picture of what a disaster can cost a business. FEMA reports that 43% of organizations hit by a natural disaster never reopen, with another 29% of organizations going out of business within two years.

COVID-19 has also driven the adoption of DRaaS. With many companies reducing IT staff during the pandemic, businesses have had to rethink their DR plans. DRaaS offers a shortcut around staffing issues, as well a way to shift DR from a CAPEX to an OPEX expenditure.

Finally, as data volumes balloon and businesses move much of their mission critical activities online, the traditional 3-2-1 backup best practice is no longer adequate. The traditional approach requires three copies of data: operating data, an onsite copy, and an offsite copy. Typically, the onsite copy is made daily or even continuously, but the offsite copy is only updated weekly or monthly.

Weekly or monthly backups used to be adequate, but today a week or month of lost data is unacceptable. Moving backup and disaster recovery to third-party providers in the cloud not only drives down costs, but also enables continuous data backups in an offsite location.

How DRaaS works: RPOs and RTOs

DRaaS replicates an organization’s physical servers, virtual machines, and/or data to the provider’s data center. In the event of a disaster, an organization can quickly failover to the service provider’s infrastructure with little downtime.

Two key concepts with all DR services are the Recovery Point Objective (RPO) and the Recovery Time Objective (RTO). The RPO measures the amount of data a business can lose during a disaster before it is negatively impacted. The RTO measures how much time elapses between the disaster striking until the DR service enables normal operations.

DRaaS is designed to provide a short RPO, meaning that the data will be restored as close as possible to its previous state at the time of the disaster.  As opposed to on-premises backups, which can conceivably restore data and servers with no downtime, cloud-based DRaaS typically has an RTO of a few hours.

DRaaS services start with replication. When an application is protected by DRaaS, the provider takes stateful snapshots at intervals determined by RPO requirements. Once snapshots are taken, they are replicated and stored at the DRaaS provider’s data center.

When disaster strikes, the failover process is initiated. End-user requests for applications and data are re-directed away from the primary data center to the DRaaS provider’s data center, where replicated snapshots serve up the latest instances of applications and data. Many DRaaS providers offer automatic snapshotting while applications are running in failover mode, which smooths out the process of failback once the disaster is mitigated.

When the primary data center is back online, the failback process then transitions end users back to the primary data center.

Three options for DRaaS solutions

There are three basic models of DRaaS: managed, assisted and DIY.

With managed DRaaS, an organization outsources the entire DR process to the service provider. The DRaaS provider takes on the burden of protecting infrastructure, cloud, on-premises servers, and hybrid systems. The provider also handles DR testing, validation, operations, maintenance, and management, and in the event of a disaster, the service provider’s staff will manage the failover process. DRaaS vendors offer SLAs that cover failover goals, including RPOs and RTOs.

With assisted DRaaS, businesses retain more control over the DR process, handling integration, testing, and more. For enterprises with homemade, highly specialized, and/or highly customized applications, assisted DRaaS offers a happy medium, with the service provider only stepping in to help when needed.

The third option is DIY. For enterprises with large IT staffs, the DIY model provides the benefits of offsite replication and hosting over the cloud, but the enterprise is responsible for integration, testing, validation, and in the event of a disaster, managing the failover.

How DRaaS providers entered the market

The DRaaS market is a crowded and complicated one, with hundreds of vendors offering a variety of different capabilities, services, and service levels. For most providers, DRaaS is not their primary source of revenue, so their other offerings, such as hosting, IaaS, and cloud migration, often determine which DRaaS offering is the best fit for any given organization.

While there are hundreds of DRaaS providers, the vast majority entered the market in one of three ways. First, many traditional backup and DR providers have evolved to provide DRaaS services too. These providers often have decades of backup and DR experience and are comfortable working with hybrid infrastructures. Examples of traditional DR vendors adding DRaaS include IBM, Recovery Point, and Sungard Availability Services.

The second path to DRaaS is through colocation/hosting services. As more and more workloads became virtualized, vendors realized DRaaS was a natural complement to things like hosting, cloud migration, and IaaS. Vendors that entered the market through this path include iland and TierPoint.

The third most common path into the DRaaS market is through hyperscale cloud services. With their massive global cloud infrastructure, these providers are best suited for businesses that are mostly, if not completely, relying on cloud-native applications and infrastructure. Vendors in this market segment include Microsoft Azure and VMware on AWS.

Who are the top DRaaS providers?

The vendors listed below are considered the market leaders by analysts such as Gartner and Markets and Markets.  

IBM – IBM’s Resiliency DRaaS promises business continuity within minutes of an outage. The service includes health monitoring and continuous replication of applications, infrastructure, data, and cloud systems.

iland – iland Secure DRaaS provides a range of options to replicate both physical and cloud resources to iland data centers for failover. iland DRaaS is integrated with Veeam to replicate Veeam on-premises DR to iland’s cloud and with Zerto to offer customized runbook functionality, optimized RPOs, and near-zero RTOs.

Microsoft – Azure Site Recovery is a cloud-native DRaaS solution for applications running on Azure VMs. Users set up Azure Site Recovery by replicating an Azure VM to a different Azure region directly from their Azure portal.

Recovery Point – Recovery Point provides DRaaS for complex, heterogeneous environments that can include everything from IBM mainframes to x86 servers to hybrid cloud environments.  

Sungard Availability Services – Sungard’s DRaaS is a fully managed service that supports complex, hybrid environments. Sungard handles everything from data protection to testing to the execution of recovery in the event of an outage.

TierPoint – TierPoint offers a range of DRaaS options that include server-to-cloud and cloud-to-cloud recovery. TierPoint also offers a managed version of Azure Site Recovery, DR for IBM mainframe environments, and protection for hybrid environments.

VMware – VMware’s Site Recovery DRaaS protects workloads both on-premises and on VMware Cloud on AWS. VMware Site Recovery provides replication, orchestration, and recovery plan automation. 

(Jeff Vance is an IDG contributing writer and the founder of Startup50.com, a site that discovers, analyzes, and ranks tech startups. Follow him on Twitter, @JWVance, or connect with him on LinkedIn.)

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