For many organizations, the one-two punch of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan was a wakeup call, a solemn reminder that disaster can and will happen. Perhaps the lesson here is for those planning for disaster recovery are to expect the unexpected, no matter how unthinkable or impossible that may be. Businesses are now rethinking their backup and disaster recovery plans, with most coming to the surprising conclusion that what they are doing is just not enough. Nowhere is this truer than with the SMB market, which lack budget dollars and has limited onsite technical expertise available. For those businesses, there is an answer, a new way to handle backups and handle IT disasters, that answer is CharTec’s BDR.
CharTec BDR: A recipe for disaster recovery
Mix together one part service, one part software and one part hardware and you have the recipe for CharTec’s BDR (Backup and Disaster Recovery) product, although product may not be the correct word here, since CharTec BDR falls under CharTec’s classification of HaaS (Hardware as a Service). Call it what you will, CharTec BDR proves to be a highly innovative solution for small businesses dealing with the burdens associated with effective backup and disaster recovery needs. With CharTec BDR, it is the sum of the parts and not the individual elements that count, just like any well-executed recipe.
Perhaps the best place to start is with the challenges faced by a small and medium business when it comes to protecting data and ensuring continual operations in the face of disaster. First and foremost is the budgetary challenge – backup solutions can be expensive, in both hardware and support costs. For example, a business just seeking to backup data needs to invest in backup software, storage technology and management/administrative costs – in other words, someone has to be responsible for the backup process.
Those costs can add up, and the expense grows, once you consider the costs of restoring data, which entails expertise, time and validation. Now, add in the costs of a disaster recovery solution, and the operational costs escalate – for effective disaster recovery, a business needs to invest in offsite storage, spare hardware and the resources to operate IT systems from an alternative environment.
Simply put, a disaster recovery solution needs to continually protect data, the associated applications, provide a path to restore the data and associated applications, while taking into consideration speed, simplicity and reliability – and that is what CharTec can offer customers, all without upfront cost.
The CharTec BDR starts off with an appliance, a preconfigured, high performance system that consists of processing power, ample storage and high speed connectivity. The appliance is sized according to the anticipated load and three different models are available, each with varying storage amounts and performance targets.
For my testing, CharTec provided their entry level the CharTec BDR 100, which came in a tower system configuration and sported a Quad Core Intel Xeon Processor, 8Gbytes of RAM, 2 Terabytes of disk storage, setup for RAID 1 and the capability to backup 3 servers. If purchased for standalone use, the CharTec BDR 100 would retail for $2,395 – however, most customers would go with the HaaS model and pay $149 per month plus $.39 per Gigabyte for offsite storage.
To test the CharTec BDR, I setup a small Windows 2008R2 network, consisting of two servers and five clients. My test environment included Microsoft Exchange, SQL server and a basic SharePoint implementation – the goal was to have a network setup similar to a typical small business.
Installation of the appliance was straight forward, almost plug and play simple. That’s good news, meaning that an end user should be able to get the hardware in place and functioning, all without an onsite visit from a technician. Additional set-up is required when setting up the CharTec BDR to the cloud.
Once plugged in and powered up, the setup process consisted of some minor networking tasks, such as adding the CharTec BDR unit to the windows domain, validating DNS, inputting a site ID and so forth – relatively simple to accomplish, especially since remote help is available.
Getting started with backups and disaster recovery services proved just as easy. The CharTec BDR application offers a simple GUI that includes commands such as “add server”, “Validate Backups”, and so on. The first step, of course is to add a server – which launches a wizard based dialog, allowing you to connect and authenticate a server and place it in the CharTec BDR unit’s backup list. Once I added my test servers, I just had to activate the backup agent and reboot – all quite simple.
Defining backup jobs proved to be just as simple; the main dashboard allows you to launch the backup software and guides you through the process. The CharTec BDR uses image based backups and can be set to backup servers as frequently as every 15 minutes. On the first run, the image based backup does a complete backup of the target servers and then performs incremental thereafter.
Although setup ease and deployment are critical elements, the most important aspect of CharTec BDR is how it works if there is a disaster or loss of data – the very purpose for the system in the first place.
The CharTec BDR unit stores backup images of the target servers, in my case I updated those image based backups every 15 minutes – those backups are the key to the CharTec BDR solution, and what you can do with those images is the key to disaster recovery. One of the first considerations is how to access the data on the images – CharTec offers 2 paths here – directly from the appliance or from a replicated copy in the cloud. The preferred way to work with the backup data is directly from the appliance – the cloud copy is only needed if you cannot access the appliance, due to a facility problem.
I found there were several options to get at your data – the first was the most direct, where you could mount the image as a drive letter and then copy any files needed back to your production system. That proves to be useful for recovering from data corruption, a virus or other “non-hardware” related problem.
However, that proves to be a very basic function and although will probably be used the most, accessing backup data directly on the CharTec BDR is not what disaster recovery is all about. Where the CharTec BDR really shines is with its ability to create an emergency virtual server using VMware’s virtualization technology. Here, the image is converted into a virtual hard drive, operating system files are automatically modified and the backup image is launched as a fully functioning virtual server.
That functionality allows businesses to deal with server hardware failure almost instantly. Under the hood, converting from a physical server to a virtual server is a complex process, where drivers, addresses and other OS specific elements must be changed to make it work – and when done by hand, it rarely goes smoothly.
CharTec is able to automate that process and remove the variables that prevent an easy transition. The CharTec BDR unit accomplishes that by offering an automated, nightly test to make sure a virtual server will work with the backed up image – removing the unpredictability from a physical to virtual conversion.
The CharTec BDR’s capability to create virtual servers almost instantly is a major advancement in disaster recovery services, offering the best way to get a business up and running from a major hardware failure. However, there is still one other concern – what if there is loss of a facility? Here CharTec comes to the rescue by offering a remotely hosted virtual server to use in case of emergency. Simply put, CharTec is able to replicate the BDR unit’s capabilities in the cloud – where backup data is already stored and processing power is already available. That proves to be a critical capability during a regional event, keeping a business up and running during a crisis.
All things considered, CharTec has built a disaster recovery solution that is efficient, worry free and easy to deploy, while still keeping it affordable for small businesses.
Tags: virtualization, Storage, Cloud Services, Backup, Disater Recovery