Nov 30 2020

What Is Disaster Recovery as a Service, and How Can It Help Feds?

DRaaS solutions provide cloud-based, real-time backup of critical data and services.

With so many federal employees continuing to work remotely, IT leaders likely face even more pressure than they did before the pandemic to ensure that critical systems do not go down, leaving users confused and angry and interrupting access to critical data and services.

Without reliable and timely access to data, mission leaders at agencies cannot carry on their work, and citizens cannot rely on their government. Increasingly, federal agencies are turning to Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS) to help them meet these challenges. For example, earlier this year, the Library of Congress issued a cloud contract solicitation that included DRaaS as a provisioned service.

Disaster Recovery as a Service is a cloud-based DR service that allows agencies to offload the management of disaster recovery to cloud service providers, ensuring availability of critical services should a disaster strike. It also helps agencies reduce costs because they do not need to host their own physical recovery infrastructure in a remote location.

To ensure continuity of operations, agencies have created redundancy in their IT infrastructure, using data backup and recovery software and secondary data centers, and deploying extra network equipment.

“Disaster recovery relies upon the replication of data and computer processing in an off-premises location not affected by the disaster,” VMware notes on its website. Agencies recover data from a second location where their data is backed up. Ideally, the agency can transfer its computer processing to the remote location to maintain operations.

What Is Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS)?

Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS) shifts the disaster recovery operation to the cloud. With DRaaS, “organizations mirror their critical on-premises systems in the cloud and create secure connectivity between the two environments,” Walker Van Arsdale, senior manager of research and insights operations at CDW, writes in a CDW blog.

“This provides near real-time redundancy when the on-premises data center goes offline, keeping applications up and running to support business operations,” Van Arsdale adds.

“A cloud computing and backup service model, DRaaS lets you replicate and host servers through a third-party provider,” Nutanix notes on its website. “Some cloud vendors offer a native, built-in DRaaS solution — eliminating the need for lengthy installation. As a result, DRaaS allows for a failover option if a disaster occurs.”

As Nutanix notes, there are three key steps to a DRaaS solution. The first is replication, which ensures organizations have a duplicate of both physical and virtualized servers, and “ensures frequent, up-to-date snapshots are available to minimize or eliminate data loss.”

The second step is failover, which Nutanix notes helps “ensure end users experience no service difference whatsoever” by transitioning “end-user access from the organization onto the third-party hosting environment.”

Failback is the third step and occurs once a disaster is mitigated. It is “the process of transitioning end user access back to the original organization” and “sets the stage for replication to reenage, making sure the organization is continuously protected,” Nutanix adds.

MORE FROM FEDTECH: Follow these best practices to keep agency data safe from loss or theft.

The Benefits of DRaaS

DRaaS offloads much of the work of disaster recovery to a cloud service provider. Many organizations with lean IT teams “simply can’t afford to take the time needed to research, implement and fully test disaster recovery plans,” VMware states. “DRaaS takes the burden of planning for a disaster off of the organization and puts it into the hands of experts in disaster recovery.”

DRaaS ensures that critical government services will not be interrupted, which is crucial for federal agencies that are providing more citizen services in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The approach has also proven beneficial at the state government level, including in Oregon, which is using Microsoft’s Azure GovCloud DRaaS.

“If something were to go horribly wrong like a natural disaster or a hardware fail,” Bryan Nealy, Oregon’s service support manager, tells GCN, “this disaster system allows us to bring up that production system in another Microsoft data center government cloud in another state.”

DRaaS also allows agencies to save on infrastructure costs. Instead of hosting disaster recovery infrastructure in a remote location with IT staff standing by if disaster strikes, moving to a DRaaS solution obviates the need for that investment, both in terms of personnel and physical infrastructure.

“Many DRaaS providers charge you only if you need their services,” VMware notes.

Walker Van Arsdale
This provides near real-time redundancy when the on-premises data center goes offline, keeping applications up and running to support business operations.”

Walker Van Arsdale Senior Manager of Research and Insights Operations, CDW

Agencies can also benefit by automating failover with DRaaS, Van Arsdale writes. “Many organizations are hesitant to fully automate this process, choosing to place the failover decision in human hands, but that doesn’t mean that automation can’t greatly improve efficiency by leveraging scripting to make the process as smooth as possible,” he says. “The goal is to allow IT leaders to make the failover decision and then leverage automation to carry out the complex technical operations that implement the failover in a fast and orderly fashion.”

DRaaS provides organizations “with an effective way to build geographic redundancy into their computing strategies without breaking the bank,” Van Arsdale adds.

“Cloud providers’ on-demand pricing allows organizations to build out redundant services but avoid paying for compute charges until the site is activated,” he writes. “This makes cloud-based DRaaS not only an operational win but also a financially wise decision.”

DISCOVER: Find out how to think through all of the costs associated with a cloud migration.

When Is DRaaS Right for You?

There are three main models to consider when thinking about DRaaS, VMware notes.

One is managed DRaaS, in which a third party takes over all responsibility for disaster recovery. “Choosing this option requires an organization to stay in close contact with their DRaaS provider to ensure that it stays up to date on all infrastructure, application and services changes,” the company notes. “If you lack the expertise or time to manage your own disaster recovery, this may be the best option for you.”

A second approach is assisted DRaaS, in which the agency’s IT team retains some control over disaster recovery plans. In this model, the cloud provider “offers its expertise for optimizing disaster recovery procedures, but the customer is responsible for implementing some or all of the disaster recovery plan.”

The third approach is a self-service DRaaS, which is the least expensive DRaaS but the one in which the agency bears the most responsibility, since it is still in charge of the planning, testing and management of disaster recovery, VMware notes. It also requires an agency to hosts its own infrastructure backup on virtual machines in a remote location.

“Careful planning and testing are required to make sure that processing can fail over to the virtual servers instantly in the event of a disaster,” VMware adds. “This option is best for those who have experienced disaster recovery experts on staff.”

LEARN MORE: What are the best tips for business continuity and disaster recovery?

Who Are the Top DRaaS Providers?

There are numerous DRaaS solutions for agencies to consider. Some of the top solutions include Microsoft Azure Site Recovery, which, as PC Magazine notes, is a good option for “seeking to protect critical workloads running on either Hyper-V or VMware.”

Another solution is Zerto Virtual Replication, which PC Magazine notes requires qualified IT staff and is better suited for large organizations. However, the publication notes, “the solution’s flexibility makes it worth a look for any organization with custom requirements.”

Carbonite offers another DRaaS solution delivering mission-critical data safety for core functions, according to PC Magazine.