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VM Replication & Resiliency: Three Common Hurdles For SMBs Part 2: Complexity

Geographic redundancy is not just for big enterprises.  Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) can take advantage of it to protect their critical apps and keep downtime to a minimum.  How, you ask?  Well, if you’re running the apps on VMware virtualization, then VM replication technology and expert managed hosting are a good place to start.

In this three-part blog series, I’ll cover the following common challenges that IT managers face when considering a resiliency solution.

Top 3 Challenges:

  1. Cost
  2. Complexity
  3. Failover Testing

Complexity Question:  I can probably do it, but do I want to?
There are a couple different ways of looking at complexity from the perspective of the IT manager.  The first consideration is whether or not you have the expertise to architect, deploy and manage a replication tool that can be fairly complex.

Your IT department probably has the expertise to determine the reference architecture, how to implement the design, and also set up the monitoring and failover testing that’s required to help manage the replication process.  The second consideration, and perhaps bigger question, is do you have the resources to dedicate towards making this happen, and even if you do, is this the most beneficial use of your headcount?

I mentioned in the first installment of this series that IT budgets are already stretched thin.  Not only are budgets limited, but the expectations are to do more with less.  A study from Gartner (Amplifying the Enterprise: 2012 CIO Agenda) indicated the No. 1 priority for CIOs in 2011 and 2012 to be “increasing enterprise growth.”

I believe that this priority applies to SMBs just the same as it would to large enterprises.  The Gartner study mentioned above discusses what it means “to re-imagine IT.”  In other words, how can IT use its resources and headcount to better serve the company by helping acquire new customers and drive innovation – as opposed to just “keeping the lights on.”

I would argue that even though your team probably has the expertise to implement a VM resiliency solution, those resources are best used to help grow the company.  The SMB would be better served if you outsourced the heavy lifting to a managed hosting provider.  Not only do many of these service providers have VMware Certified Professionals (VCP), but they have already done a wide range of resiliency implementations for hundreds of customers just like you.

A managed hosting provider can help you architect and deploy the resiliency solution that best fits your risk requirements.  They will deploy the infrastructure in industry-leading data centers and have staff dedicated to monitoring your VM replication process around-the-clock.

Achieving geographic redundancy by hosting your business-critical VMs with a managed service provider will free up your team to focus on value-adding initiatives like the following:  building systems that have near real-time access to business data in order to deliver trending and reporting info that can be used to improve your customers’ experience.

When the “Scheisse” Hits the Fan
Pardon my German, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that your worst day at the office would probably be when unplanned downtime strikes.  Remember, it’s not a question of if an outage will happen, but when.  Being able to leverage an extension of your own IT team is like a lighthouse that will help guide your ship safely back to harbor during a torrential storm.

When evaluating various service providers, be sure to understand the levels of responsibility that fall on you, and the responsibilities owned by the hosting provider.  At the very least, a managed hosting provider should be able to assist you with the failover process in order to make sure this goes off without a hitch.

When it comes to affordable resiliency solutions, you’re usually responsible for executing your own disaster recovery (DR) plan.  This is the comprehensive strategy that encompasses processes, policies, people and technology.  As part of the DR plan, you should have a failover runbook that will cover the process once a major disruption occurs.

You should prepare for an outage by training your team for this inevitable event, testing your failover process often and communicating the next steps with all of the appropriate stakeholders and leadership.  Once a disruption occurs, you would press the “failover button,” so to speak, and initiate the process; this is when the support team from the managed hosting provider springs into action.

The responsibilities then shift to the service provider who assists you with the failover process.  As part of the managed-level of service, the provider is usually responsible for the replication tool, hypervisor layer, guest-OS layer, and also the dedicated hardware, network and the data centers.  This level of control coupled with monitoring tools, expert staff and 24/7 access will all help you get through – as Jack Bauer would say – “the longest day of your life” and bring back your critical apps as quickly as possible.

Quick recap…

  • Just because you have the expertise, doesn’t mean you should do it
    • Outsource the heavy lifting to a managed hosting provider
    • Free up your resources so your team can  leverage technology to enhance the customer experience and support revenue growth
  • When evaluating service providers, be aware of the levels of responsibility
    • Create a comprehensive DR plan that includes a failover runbook
    • Train your team, test the failover process often and communicate next steps with leadership and stakeholders so you’ll be ready to push the “failover button” when the Scheisse hits the fan

In the final installment, I’ll discuss the third challenge for SMBs – testing the failover process.

Want to learn more about VM replication and resiliency, and how to overcome these hurdles? Check out the recording of this webinar: VM Replication Is Your Lifeline When Disaster Strikes.

About the Author

This is a post written and contributed by Brent Scotten.

Brent does product marketing for Rackspace Managed Virtualization. He hails from Southern California, but currently lives in San Antonio.

Prior to joining Rackspace in 2012, Brent worked at DreamHost doing product marketing for their hosting and cloud divisions. While working in downtown Los Angeles, Brent established the OpenStack LA user group and grew it from zero to 250 “Stackers” in six months.

You can follow his cloudy interests on Twitter - @BrentScotten.


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