The latest BriefingsDirect case study discussion focuses on how business standards and compliance services provider SAI Global is benefiting from a strategic view of IT enabled disaster recovery (DR).
Learn here how SAI Global has brought advanced backup and DR best practices into play for its users and customers. Examine too how this has not only provided business continuity assurance, but it has also provided beneficial data lifecycle management and virtualization efficiency improvement.
Mark Iveli, IT System Engineer at SAI Global, based in Sydney, Australia, details on how standardizing DR has helped improve many aspects of SAI Global’s business reliability. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions. [Disclosure: VMware is a sponsor of BriefingsDirect podcasts.]
Here are some excerpts:
Iveli: When we started to get into DR, we handled it from an IT point of view and it was very much like an iceberg. We looked at the technology and said, “This is what we need from a technology point of view.” As we started to get further into the journey, we realized that there was so much more that we were overlooking.
We were working with the businesses to go through what they had, what they didn’t have, what we needed from them to make sure that we could deliver what they needed. Then we started to realize it was a bigger project.
The initiative for DR started about 18 months ago with our board, and it was a directive to improve the way we had been doing things. That meant a complete review of our processes and documentation.
We had a number of business units that all had different strategies for their disaster recovery, and different timings and mechanisms to report on it.
Through the use of VMware Site Recovery Manager (SRM) in the DR project, we’ve been able to centralize all of the DR processes, provide consistent reporting, and be able to schedule these business units to do all of their testing in parallel with each other.
So we can make a DR session, so to speak, within the business and just run through the process for them and give them their reports at the end of it.
We’ve installed SRM 4.1 and our installation was handled by an outsource company, VCPro. They were engaged with us to do the installation and help us get the design right from a technical point of view.
Trying to make it a daily operational activity is where the biggest challenge is, because the implementation was done in a project methodology. Handing it across to the operational teams to make it a daily operation, or a daily task, is where we’re seeing some challenges.
I’m a systems engineer with SAI Global, and I’ve been with the company for three years. When the DR project started to gather some momentum, I asked to be a significant part of the project. I got the nod and was seconded to the DR project team because of my knowledge of VMware.
That’s what my role is now — keeping the SRM environment tuned and in line with what the business needs. That’s where we’re at with SRM.
The first 12 months of this journey so far has been all around cleaning up, getting our documentation up to spec, making sure that every business unit understood and was able to articulate their environments well. Then, we brought all that together so that we could say what’s the technology that’s going to encapsulate all of these processes and documentation to deliver what the business needs, which is our recovery point objective (RPO) and for our recovery time objective (RTO).
SAI Global is an umbrella company. We have three to four main areas of interest. The first one, which we’re probably most well-known for, is our Five Ticks brand, and that’s the ASIS standards. The publication, the collection, the customization to your business is all done through our publishing section of the business.
That then flows into an assurance side of the business, which goes out and does auditing, training, and certification against the standards that we sell.
We continue to buy new companies, and part of the acquisition trail that we have been on has been to buy some compliance businesses. That’s where we provide governance risk and compliance services through the use of Board Manager, GRC Manager, Cintellate, and in the U.S., Integrity 360.
Finally, last year, we acquired a company that deals solely in property settlement, and they’re quite a significant section of the business that deals a lot with banks and convincing firms in handling property settlements.
So we’re a little bit diverse. All three of those business sections have their own IT requirements.
Gardner: Like many businesses, your brand is super important. The trust associated with your performance is something you will take seriously. So DR, backup and recovery, business continuity, are top-line issues for you.
Is there anything about what you’ve been doing as a company that you think makes DR specifically important for you?
Iveli: From SAI Global’s point of view, because of what we do, especially around the property settlement and interactions with the banks, DR is critical for us.
Our publishing business feels that their website needs to be available five nines. When we showed them what DR is capable of doing, they really jumped on board and supported it. They put DR as high importance for them.
As far as businesses go, everyone needs to be planning for this. I read an article recently where something like 85 percent of businesses in the Asia-Pacific region don’t have a proper DR strategy in place. With the events that have happened here in Australia recently with the floods, and when you look at the New Zealand earthquakes and that sort of stuff, you wonder where the businesses are putting DR and how much importance they’ve got on it. It’s probably only going to take a significant event before they change their minds.
Gardner: I was intrigued, Mark, when you said what DR is capable of doing. Do you feel that there is a misperception, perhaps an under-appreciation of what DR is?
Process in place
Iveli: The larger DR whole was just that these business units had a process in place, but it was an older process and a lot of the process was designed around a physical environment.
With SAI Global being almost 100 percent virtual, moving them into a virtual space opened their minds up to what was possible. So when we can sit down with the business units and say, “We’re going to do this DR test,” they ask if it will impact production. No, it won’t. How is it happening? “Well, we are going to do this, this, and this in the background. And you will actually have access to your application the way it is today, it’s just going to be isolated and fenced off.”
They say, “This is what we’ve been waiting for.” We can actually do this sort of stuff. They’re starting to see and ask, “Can we use this to test the next version of the applications and can we test this to kind of map out our upgrade path?”
We’re starting to move now into a slightly different world, but it has been the catalyst of DR that’s enabled them to start thinking in these new ways, which they weren’t able to do before.
Gardner: So being able to completely switch over and recover with very little interruption in terms of the testing, with very little downtime or loss, the opportunity then is to say, “What else can we do with this capability?”
Iveli: Absolutely. With this new process, we’ve taken the approach of baby steps, and we’re just looking to get some operational maturity into the environment first, before we start to push the boundaries and do things like disaster avoidance.
Having the ability to just bring these environments across in a state that’s identical to production is eye-opening for them. Where the business wants to take it is the next challenge, and that’s probably how do we take our DR plan to version 2.0.
We need to start to work with the likes of VMware and ask what our options are now. We have this in place, people are liking it, but they want to take it into a more highly available solution. What do we do next? Use vCloud Director? Do we need to get our sites in an active/active pairing?
However, whatever the next technology step is for us, that’s where the business are now starting to think ahead. That’s nice from an alignment point of view.
Gardner: Those DR maturation approaches put you in a position to further leverage virtualization. Is there sort of a virtuous adoption pattern, when you combine modern DR with widespread virtualization.
Iveli: Because all of a sudden, your machines are just a file on a data store somewhere, now you can move these things around. As the physical technologies continue to advance — the speed of our networks, the speed of the storage environments, metro clustering, long haul replication — these technologies are allowing businesses to think outside of the box and look at ways in which they can provide faster recovery, higher availability, more elastic environments.
You’re not pinned down to just one data center in Sydney. You could have a data center in Sydney and a data center in New Zealand, for instance, and we can keep both of those sites online and in sync. That’s couple of years down the track for our business, but that’s a possibility somehow through the use of more virtualization technology.
Gardner: Any advice for those listening in who are beginning their journey? For those folks that are recognizing the risks and seeing these larger benefits, these more strategic benefits, how would you encourage them to begin their journey, what advice might you offer?
Iveli: The advice would be to get hired guns in. With DR, you’re not going to be able to do everything yourself. So spend a little bit more money and make sure that you get some consultants in like VCPro. Without these guys, we probably would have struggled a little bit just making sure that our design was right. These guys ensured that we had best practice in our designs.
Before you get into DR, do your homework. Make sure that your production environment is pristine. Clean it up. Make sure that you don’t have anything in there that’s wasting your resources.
Come around with a strong business case for DR. Make sure that you’ve got everybody on board and you have the support of the business.
When you get into DR, make sure that you secure dedicated resources for it. Don’t just rely on people coming in and out of the project. Make sure that you can lead people to the resource and you make sure that they are fully engaged in the design aspects and the implementation aspects.
And as you progress with DR, incorporate it as early as you can into your everyday IT operation. We’re seeing that, because we held it back from our operations, just handing it over and having them manage the hardware and the ESX and the logical layers, the environment, they were struggling just to get their head around it and what was what, where should this go, where should that go.
And once it’s in place, celebrate. It can be a long haul. It can be quite a trying time. So when you finally get it done, make sure that you celebrate it.
Gardner: And perhaps a higher degree of peace of mind that goes with that.
Iveli: Well, you’ll find out when you get through it, how much easier this is making your life, how much better you can sleep at night.
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