Delivering Disaster Recovery as a Service: What Partners Should Consider

Many partners are looking to become DRaaS providers and there are many ways to provide disaster recovery services. Find the delivery approach that works for you.

Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS) isn't new, but thanks to advances in software, hardware and a vast amount of public cloud infrastructure throughout the world, it's now easier than ever to become a DRaaS provider. Not only is it simpler to offer DRaaS, but thanks to the maturing of the cloud and rapidly declining prices for usage, a traditional systems integrator (SI) or VAR of any size can now offer it without building a datacenter. It's also becoming more straightforward for partners with datacenters to deliver DRaaS in ways customers can now afford and easily manage. Those that have started offering this new class of DRaaS -- or are in the throes of doing so -- are discovering they can extend it to include other forms of storage, backup and replication services.

Many of the new cloud-based data protection services are just coming to market. Those already offering cloud-based backup and DRaaS say they're seeing double-digit growth, but given the huge number of competitive offerings, they're finding customers have varying questions and expectations based on the various pitches they're evaluating. Because DRaaS solutions are new and evolving, many providers are still deciding on the approach they want to take to architecting their offerings.

Yet the timing couldn't be better for any type of infrastructure solution provider, VAR or managed services provider (MSP) to add DRaaS to their line cards. Not only is the technology becoming easier to deliver, but demand is on the rise. That's because the expectation is that every customer-facing organization is expected to have systems that are always available, an expectation many aren't able to meet.

A recent survey (available here with registration) of 2,080 organizations conducted by IT services provider Evolve IP LLC found only 54 percent were very prepared to recover their systems from a major disaster, while 44 percent were somewhat prepared. Making that figure striking is the fact that those were organizations subject to some form of compliance requirements. The situation is even worse for those without such requirements, where only 32 percent were very prepared to recover and 61 percent were somewhat prepared. Only 41 percent mirror their data to a secondary site.

More than half, 52 percent, said they'd consider adding some form of DRaaS, while 16 percent already use some form of it, according to the survey. And only 13 percent are currently using some form of public cloud service for data protection. Scott Kinka, Evolve IP's chief technology officer, says customers are still in the early stages of using DRaaS, mostly choosing to protect their most critical systems. Still, average growth in data stored has increased 30 percent over the past year from 3.6TB to 4.8TB, according to Kinka.

"Disaster recovery as a service is now the fastest-growing as-a-service segment."

Scott Kinka, Chief Technology Officer, Evolve IP LLC

"On the cloud computing side of our business, it's actually our fastest-growing segment right now," he says. "It's outpacing virtual desktops, or end-user workspace hosting and traditional Infrastructure as a Service [IaaS]. What's interesting is a lot of customers historically used our [IaaS] offering as a place to put other versions of data, but eight months ago we wrapped that with a service-level tier that enabled them to manage failover and failback to the cloud as opposed to just buying infrastructure and engineering a failover-failback solution on their own. It may have cannibalized some of our [IaaS] business because I think some of that may have lived there, but the result is [DRaaS] is now the fastest-growing as-a-service segment."

Evolve IP, which has historically offered data protection through its key storage partner EMC Corp., offers native SAN replication using the vendor's RecoverPoint continuous replication software. For customers with storage other than EMC, the provider has offered replication services using DRaaS DT (Double Take) and has recently added DRaaS ZT (Zerto) virtual replication, a tool designed for cloud services providers looking to offer DRaaS. Until recently, Zerto only supported VMware replication, but in October the company released a version that works with Microsoft Hyper-V.

DRaaS Considerations
Just as Evolve IP says DRaaS is its fastest-growing service, just about every major services provider that delivers a broad array of infrastructure services, including data protection, has similar stories. How a provider might deliver a DRaaS offering depends on whether the partner already has a datacenter. If so, the ability to expand it is a matter of adding more hardware, software and network infrastructure and the array of options there continues to expand. Providers that don't currently operate datacenters and don't desire to do so have a number of new options to become one by relying on any number of the larger cloud services.

Indeed, demand for data protection is a key contributor to the growth of the Microsoft Azure service. Over the past year, Microsoft rolled out substantial new capabilities to its Azure cloud to enable partners to deliver DRaaS. Among them, Microsoft last year acquired InMage, whose Scout technology provides improved replication, and Azure ExpressRoute, which through partner network providers can provide dedicated high-speed WAN links.

The InMage acquisition gave Microsoft an on-premises appliance that offers real-time data capture on a continuous basis. Offered with its new Azure Site Recovery Service, the appliance simultaneously performs local backups or remote replication via a single data stream of virtual (VMware or Hyper-V) and physical instances.

Microsoft sees DRaaS as a key steppingstone to offering IaaS. DRaaS especially has appeal to customers because it delivers what for many is a much-needed capability that can be out of reach, and certainly far less expensive for those using secondary datacenters or operating colocation facilities.

New routes to using Azure for DRaaS, along with other major cloud infrastructure services such as Amazon Web Services Inc. (AWS) and VMware vCloud Air, among others, are emerging almost daily and are enabling them to function as virtual hot sites for customers. Providers of traditional data protection software have added hooks to their offerings that simplify the provisioning of DRaaS, whether the back-end is a major cloud services provider or the partner's own datacenter.

Leveraging Public Cloud Services
Azure has become a reasonable choice for any partner wedded to the Redmond platform, but many might choose to utilize vCloud Air, AWS or Rackspace as an alternative or in addition to Azure. Regardless of the public cloud provider, they all offer partners the option of establishing a global datacenter without building a datacenter, utilizing a colocation facility or even buying a single disk drive. And there are many ways a provider can do so.

One popular approach is a growing class of appliances that partners can install at a customer's site. Some of these appliances use Azure, AWS, and vCloud Air or one or more of the other cloud giants as their storage target. Effectively, the large public cloud providers serve as a hot site. For many partners, this is a new concept. In some cases, their customers push them toward it.

Saint Michael's College in Burlington, Vt., recently decided it wanted to use the public cloud to extend a business continuity and disaster recovery project it completed a few years back. Given the growing amount of critical data stored at a nearby datacenter, the university's IT organization concluded it couldn't cost-effectively meet the storage requirements of ensuring it could recover from a disaster. When the university turned to its partner to address its desire to expand its disaster recovery requirements, Shawn Umansky, a network engineer at Saint Michael's involved in the deployment, recalls the local partner pushing for the traditional EMC-based SAN architecture.

Instead, the university pushed the partner to look at some cloud solutions, which ultimately deployed a service from Nasuni Inc. The Nasuni Filer appliance cache frequently uses data and automatically backs up the university's environment every five minutes (it can do so every minute), Umansky says.

After considering a similar Microsoft StorSimple appliance, Saint Michael's decided after meeting with a Nasuni pre-sales engineer to push the partner to deliver the Nasuni offering. "We kind of went rogue as far as [our partner was] concerned," Umansky recalls. "But we really liked what we saw, and thought it was worth it. We just knew from the experience of our previous SAN we needed something that was different. We weren't going to go through that again."

Initially the partner resisted. "I wouldn't say they didn't like it," Umansky says. "Historically they had always sold a more traditional SAN architecture to their clients. We discovered this and said what do you think and they initially said, 'Eh.' But they were ultimately sold on it."

The Nasuni solution now uses Azure as the preferred storage target for its service. Until recently the company had used AWS -- and still offers that as an option to customers requesting it -- but Azure is now the Nasuni go-to cloud for customers that are ambivalent. Other providers of appliances now have their own clouds with distributed datacenters they operate. Among them are Axcient and Unitrends.

'One Throat To Choke'
Dean Cohen, storage practice director at Virtual Graffiti Inc., recently took on the Unitrends product line of appliances, which includes a variety of solutions such as Unitrends DRaaS. While the service requires the Unitrends Cloud for DRaaS (which it says is more reliable than public clouds), it supports third-party clouds for archiving, including AWS S3, Google Cloud Storage and Rackspace Files for archiving. While Virtual Graffiti sells a large amount of Backup Exec, ever since Symantec Corp. stopped operating its own cloud last year, Cohen has started recommending Unitrends to those preferring a one-stop-shop-type DRaaS solution.

"With Unitrends, you have one throat to choke," Cohen says. "Where when you're using Symantec, you may have two or three throats to choke, because it's a software-based product and you may have two different storage devices, whether it be disk or tape that you're using as your backup target."

Indeed, solutions from Axcient, Barracuda Networks Inc., Datto, Nasuni and Unitrends make sense for partners who take a more consultative approach to DRaaS but may not want to function as the operator, though it wouldn't preclude an MSP from doing so. Others prefer the software-only approach (with the option of building their own appliances) from the likes of Altaro, CloudBerry Lab, CommVault, Dell Software, StorageCraft Corp., Symantec, Veeam Software, Vision Solutions Inc. and Zerto. Microsoft and VMware also offer various tools with their systems management platforms.

Cloud Connect
Veeam, one of the fastest-growing providers of data protection software for Hyper-V- and VMware-based virtual environments, has recently added a tool designed specifically for services providers. Veeam Cloud Connect, released late last year, provides a secure gateway at the partner's datacenter. It enables customers with the new Veeam Availability Suite v8 to select one of the company's DRaaS partners that are members of the Veeam Cloud Provider (VCP) program and effectively use that provider's cloud as their disaster recovery hot site.

The Veeam Cloud Connect gateway, which can be managed by services providers with the Veeam backup console and can be either automated with Windows PowerShell or tied to customer portals using a REST-based API, creates a cloud repository that's multitenant. Because it doesn't require the services provider to have multiple stores for reaching customers, it enables backups to be stored securely in a shared repository. It also has its own WAN accelerator to speed up backups and restores.

Perhaps most noteworthy is the fact that the Cloud Connect gateway doesn't require the partner's customers to link via a VPN tunnel. Instead, it works with a single TCP port protected by SSL encryption. "From that standpoint, the barrier to entry both for the customer to get started and for the services provider to take on new clients, without having the VPN in place, is really small," explains Rick Vanover, a Veeam product strategy specialist.

Vanover just came off a six-city road show explaining to partners how they can become VCPs. "This is the first technology we've made that's entirely services-provider friendly," Vanover says. "A lot of times [before releasing Cloud Connect] we've had to add modules to existing capabilities or provide extra architectures and guidance, but this offering is built specifically for this new model. So the barriers to entry are low, the capabilities are pretty high for what it is right now, and those who are using it are very happy with it."

One of those early partners who is happy with it is Dallas-based Iland, a Microsoft, Veeam and VMware partner, and a launch partner for Cloud Connect. "The interest has been huge; we see probably three to five opportunities a day," says Dante Orsini, senior vice president of business development for Iland, which operates eight datacenters throughout the United States, Europe and Singapore for its cloud offering. "We've been super-excited about it."

"We're finding that cloud backup is a very sticky offering."

Dante Orsini, Senior Vice President of Business Development, Iland

Orsini underscored Vanover's contention that the ability to use a cloud partner for DRaaS without requiring the setup and operation of a VPN has made the notion of using the service much less invasive. "A lot of folks see that just using SSL makes it very simple because you're not changing behavior. Being able to leverage the same backup strategy, same functionality and just very easily establish a remote target without sacrificing the functionality of the platform is ingenious. Plus, we're finding that cloud backup is a very sticky offering."

Orsini says iLand is closing more than 45 percent of the three to five daily Cloud Connect opportunities that come its way. Many aren't backing up their data off-site at all. Still, he acknowledges many customers are skeptical. The difficulty comes in the pricing, which is 15 cents per gigabyte. "Management may not understand [what] the cost of leveraging this type of platform would be, when they see advertising for just vanilla cold cloud storage for a penny a gig," he says. "No one in the Veeam Cloud Connect community is delivering this for a penny a gig. There's a lot of comparisons out there. So when we actually walk people through the difference between this type of platform versus something that's going to cold storage where they may not have access to the data without requesting it, they see there are stipulations that come with a penny a gig, versus what they're really looking for in a solution and they quickly realize that it's apples to oranges. So I think some of this is about educating the public, about what this platform can bring them. That's what a lot of us are doing now."

In addition to supporting partners in the VCP, Vanover notes partners have the option of using Azure as a target rather than their own datacenters (the connectivity app is available in the Azure Marketplace). A Veeam Cloud Connect interface for vCloud Air is under development, as well, Vanover says. Veeam claims 6,800 partners were in the VCP as of the end of December 2014.

Under Construction
Many infrastructure providers are still readying their DRaaS offerings such as Charlotte, N.C.-based Peak 10 Inc., a hosting and managed services provider with 25 datacenters in 10 markets whose clients include Chiquita Brands,, Meineke, Pergo and the PGA of America. Monty Blight, a vice president at Peak 10, says the ability to help customers determine and meet their recovery time objectives (RTOs) and recovery point objectives (RPOs) is key. Those metrics vary on the importance of data availability and are tempered by how much customers are willing to pay for them.

Peak 10's own hosting and cloud operations are VMware-based, but thanks to the Zerto Hyper-V support, Blight says the company is able to support replication between that hypervisor environment, as well. At the same time, Blight says Peak 10 is planning to roll out an Azure-compatible cloud operation later this year. These might be customers who use the Azure public cloud that want to use Peak 10 as an alternate private cloud, Blight says.

"What I really appreciate and like about Microsoft is they've been really pretty clear and consistent on their communication with the partner community on what it is that their software and services enable us to do versus what they're going to do themselves," he says. "Azure has been out there for a while first in the Platform-as-a-Service model and now moving more into the [IaaS] model."

Like many partners, Blight says DRaaS is one of its fastest-growing businesses. "Your executive team is expecting 100 percent performance and reliability and they keep on shrinking your budget and you keep on delivering against it," he says. "Technology seems to always work and so the tolerance for downtime continues to shrink. If there's a disaster that you can't recover from quickly, that has become an unacceptable situation."

Rent Instead of Build
Rich Lilly, practice director for Advanced Infrastructure Services at Chicago-based Project Leadership Associates, sees a lot of demand for DRaaS, but believes the Azure Site Recovery options offered by Microsoft and the Double-Take and Move tools offered by Vision Solutions can serve as a viable platform to deliver the service.

"We found that leveraging and reselling that service through Azure and leveraging the Vision Solutions tool was actually a cheaper alternative than trying to host it and build that capital-intensive infrastructure ourselves." Lilly says he has found customers like the Microsoft Cloud OS model, which provides the ability to build Azure-like clouds internally and use the Azure public cloud to extend their infrastructures.

"What Azure and Vision Solutions have brought is basically disaster recovery to the masses," Lilly says. "Customers are finding new ways to be innovative with their businesses and leveraging the cloud is something they're all interested in looking at right now."