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INDUSTRY INSIGHT

3 ways cloud eases the disaster recovery struggle

The inspector general of the Government Publishing Office -- the agency responsible for publishing information products for Congress, other federal agencies and the public -- recently released an audit report finding that GPO no disaster recovery plan in place.

The agency's lack of a disaster recovery plan had been pointed out in a 2011 audit, but eight years later, no progress had been made. Without a proper data recovery plan, the GPO may be unable to recover valuable data or support business functions in the event of a service disruption or natural disaster.

It’s crucial that all agencies maintain connectivity and establish a contingency plan in the event of a disaster, but cost and bureaucratic barriers often stand in their way. Still, there are steps agencies like the GPO take to increase their chances of a full recovery after a disaster.

Disaster recovery challenges

The GPO’s lack of disaster recovery plan is concerning, but not surprising. Implementing such a plan is expensive -- even more so when an organization relies on an on-premise strategy over a cloud strategy, as many agencies do.

Traditionally, disaster recovery for on-premise infrastructure involved creating a copy of an organization’s main production environments. If an agency spent $100,000 per month on operational infrastructure, maintaining a proper disaster recovery site would cost another $100,000 per month, since it is essentially storing a duplicate of the existing data.

Moving away from an on-premise strategy and toward a hybrid cloud approach takes care of many disaster recovery challenges, especially in terms of affordability. But gaining the momentum to take on such a significant project can be challenging.

In government, IT projects tend to take longer to deliver unless an emergency occurs. Often, by the time a new IT initiative is cleared to move forward, technology has already advanced to the point that the solution is outdated or even obsolete. Because upgrading involves a long and challenging process, many agencies feel trapped with their current solutions.

The government's reliance on a cloud strategy, however, isn’t going away. Agencies would be wise to move toward the cloud, regardless of the length of the approval and implementation process.

Increased accessibility through the cloud

Less than half of government organizations use cloud services currently, according to Gartner. But there are significant benefits in prioritizing a cloud environment over private infrastructure, especially when agencies partner with a managed cloud services provider that offers skills the organization may not have internally. When it comes to a disaster recovery, here are a few of the top benefits the cloud offers:

1. Affordable access.  The cloud's storage and compute resources can remain offline until they actually need to be deployed -- a much less expensive measure than maintaining duplicate private infrastructure. Keeping data in a cloud so that it’s available to an agency's production and recovery environments means paying for data storage just once, as opposed to twice. If a disaster occurs, agencies can simply bring the virtual environment live. This decrease in cost lowers the barrier to entry for setting up a disaster recovery plan.

2. Improved ability to act fast.  The major cloud service providers offer a number of disaster recovery features that can be enabled with a click, as opposed to the extensive effort and collaboration required to implement disaster recovery on private infrastructure. Cloud systems also proactively apply security best practices across an entire organization and force compliance with agency standards. By relying on a cloud strategy for disaster recovery, agencies can take a holistic and automated approach to securing potential weaknesses and apply security best practices.

3. Decreased attack vector.  Cloud storage has been found to be more secure than traditional systems, partly due to the fact that cloud reduces the threat vector -- the overall surface area of the organization that is exposed to potential threats. In a traditional legacy environment, on-premise infrastructure grows with the organization, which increases the areas that could become exposed to the outside world. By moving to a centrally managed cloud infrastructure, the opportunity for employees to skirt security policy and implement unapproved solutions is decreased, significantly reducing an organization’s exposure.

Bureaucracy will always slow agencies' deployment of new technology. However, transitioning to a cloud environment from on-premise infrastructure is a worthy project for agencies, especially for the disaster recovery benefits. By trusting the cloud and the right hybrid cloud management partner, agencies such as the GPO can remain secure and save time and money, even in the event of a disaster.

About the Author

Grant Kirkwood is CTO at Unitas Global.

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