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The Edge of the Network: Maximizing Availability

By: Rawad Zaki, country manager, Saudi Arabia at Veeam Software


We've all heard about fantastic new data centre technologies, but all too often it looks like these technologies only seem to apply to the largest organizations with a wealth of centralized resources. Because data doesn't just live in the data centre, we often face daily challenges when data is put to use in the field at remote offices and branch offices (ROBOs).

Business and IT leaders need to recognize the unique needs of ROBOs. For instance, teams based in remote offices need constant, reliable and fast access to essential data, without sacrificing data security and integrity. A challenge for IT leaders is how to ensure that data is available, even without a dedicated local IT team to govern and control it. The 2016 Veeam Availability Report showed that half of the respondents only test backups on a monthly basis, or even less frequently. Long gaps between testing increase the chance of issues being found when data needs to be recovered – at which point it may be too late for these organizations. And out of those who do perform such tests, just 26 percent test more than five percent of their backups. This means that the vast majority of backups are not verified and could fail. The percentage is even higher when it comes to ROBO locations.

The good news for ROBOs is that it's now easier than ever — with the help of the right solutions — to extend data centre backup, replication and Availability capabilities all the way out to the edges of an entire organization.

So, how can ROBOs achieve excellent levels of Availability without facing complexity?

The Modern Data Centre Extends to ROBOs

The modern data centre has three key attributes – it is highly virtualized, it uses modern storage solutions and has a cloud strategy in place.

Each of these attributes is critical to a ROBO's success. However, because of each ROBO's specific needs, there are no real roadmaps for building and implementing architecture for a remote office.

Virtualization has had a huge impact on ROBOs. From reduced equipment footprints and lower setup costs, to simpler management workloads and faster deployment of new services, virtualized environments have become the natural choice for ROBOs.

Modern storage systems have also made life a lot easier for ROBOs. Whether it's a new solution rolled out to serve every branch or a solution that's just deployed on site, new storage solutions are helping ROBOs store — and what is more important, backup and replicate — their data more intelligently.

The cloud is now a suitable option to move and store backup and replicated data, unlike the leased private lines that are often a significant performance bottleneck to perform this task.

Best Availability Practices for the Branch Office

Many organizations struggle to select the best solutions for on-site and off-site backup, because there really isn't a one-size-fits-all approach for remote office architecture.

Organizations often end up choosing between taking on-site backups, writing backups off-site or doing replicas both on and off-site — instead of considering how they could utilize them all.

There is the long-promoted 3-2-1 rule for Availability that can be the best solution in this situation. It states that there should be: 3 copies of important data, on 2 different media, with 1 off-site.

The 3-2-1 rule is highly versatile and can address just about any failure scenario imaginable by ensuring that all data is both backed up in multiple locations, and also quickly recoverable. This approach means that companies don't have to worry about getting locked into any particular technology or specific vendor and can stay flexible as their IT environment evolves and expands.

Replicas are more suitable than backups in true disaster situations, when the RTO needs to be reduced to a minimum and all production loads need to be moved to another site in the least amount of time possible. Replicated virtual machines (VMs) are inventoried and ready-to-run VMs in their own right, so when the worst happens, they can be failed over very quickly on dedicated and similar hardware that's pre-deployed on the Disaster Recovery (DR) site. This is why replication needs a higher investment when it comes to storage and computing power at the DR site. Backups don't offer the same speed for recovery time  objectives (RTOs), but are more flexible and portable and require lower storage consumption.

Backups can be copied on different support media and are much more manageable when addressing day-to-day recovery scenarios typical in ROBO environments.

With a large number of sites and locations, companies need to make a choice about where to do their backups and replication. This can be a challenge because some sites may require replicas, others may need backups as well, and they all need to have their individual specifications and requirements considered.

Having backups taken on-site provides some important benefits:


  1. Backup times are fast because no information needs to be sent off-site;
  2. Restore times are fast because all data is very close to the host;
  3. New replication features open up new options such as creating a backup file and replicating a running VM at the same time.
  4. Balancing Budgets and Business Requirements


Unfortunately, the best solutions for a remote office rarely line up to what most companies can afford to implement. It's widely understood and accepted that replication grants the greatest availability benefits for ROBOs because of the fast recovery times, but budgetary constraints often just allow for the use of backups.

Generally speaking, setting up backups is a very versatile and cost-effective solution. Setting up replicated virtual machines grants prompt business continuity, but requires a higher infrastructure investment.

The real challenge is finding the right solutions for rolling out across diverse remote office environments. No two locations ever look exactly the same; they often are designed and deployed on different dates and include their own individual requirements. This challenge can make it very difficult to roll out global backup and recovery policies across an entire organization. It can also lead to increased inefficiencies and longer restore times.

With a cost-effective hybrid solution in place that merges the advantages of on-site backup with the high availability and security offered by off-site replication, IT leaders can take control of this complex environment. They can ensure that everybody plays by the same rules and, regardless of the location, can recover data as quickly as the data centre at headquarters.

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