2024 Gartner® report: Tips to bolster your disaster recovery program
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May 15, 2024

Implementing disaster recovery in the cloud: Strategies used by enterprises

Operating on the cloud offers many benefits such as centralized data security, scalability and flexibility, and quick application deployment but having cloud-based architecture doesn’t mean organizations can be complacent when it comes to recovering from outages or disasters. Disaster recovery is still essential in the cloud but there are key differences between on-premises disaster recovery and disaster recovery in the cloud.

Read this article to find out more about key cloud disaster recovery challenges, the cloud DR strategies used by enterprises, and how to build your cloud DR plan.

Cloud disaster recovery challenges

When we surveyed organizations about their attitudes to resilience in the cloud, 73% said they assumed some degree of resilience was automatic. However, while there are resilience benefits to operating in the cloud, resilience does not happen automatically and no service can ever be assumed to be 100% resilient against outages, so effective disaster recovery is still needed. There are several reasons cloud-based disaster recovery can be more complex than traditional disaster recovery:

Dependency on cloud service providers (CSPs)

Cloud-based applications rely on the infrastructure and services provided by CSPs. Recovering these applications involves coordination with the CSP, understanding what recovery tools they have available, and potentially navigating their support processes.

Data management and replication

Managing data in the cloud, including replication and backup, may differ from on-premises environments. Cloud storage solutions often have their own mechanisms for data redundancy and disaster recovery, which require understanding and integration into the recovery plan.

Network complexity

Cloud-based applications often have more complex networking configurations compared to on-premises applications. This complexity arises from factors such as multi-region deployments, virtual private clouds (VPCs), and network security policies. Recovering cloud-based applications involves reconfiguring these network settings to ensure proper connectivity and security.

Identity and access management (IAM)

IAM in the cloud introduces additional complexity, especially in multi-cloud environments. Recovering cloud-based applications may require managing user access, permissions, and authentication mechanisms across different cloud services and environments.

Service integration

Cloud-based applications frequently rely on various cloud services, such as databases, message queues, and content delivery networks (CDNs). Recovering these applications involves ensuring the availability and consistency of these integrated services during the recovery process.

Resource orchestration and automation

Cloud environments offer automation and orchestration capabilities for provisioning and managing resources. However, recovering cloud-based applications requires designing and implementing automated recovery workflows that account for the dynamic nature of cloud infrastructure.

Compliance and governance

Proving to regulators the ability to recover cloud resources within impact tolerances can be challenging if regular testing capabilities are not in place.

Third-party dependencies

Cloud-based applications may rely on third-party services or APIs for functionality. Recovering these applications involves coordinating with third-party providers and ensuring the availability of their services during the recovery process. 

Due to these factors, your IT disaster recovery plans for on-premises applications will not be adequate for managing disaster recovery in the cloud. You need a bespoke cloud DR strategy and plan to ensure that if there is a cloud outage you can quickly recover within impact tolerances.

The cloud disaster recovery strategies used by enterprises

There are four main cloud-based disaster recovery strategies used by organizations. Choosing the right one depends on the criticality of the services being recovered:

Backup and restore

Backup and restore is a lower-cost option that can be used for lower-priority applications and services that have a recovery point objective (RPO) and recovery time objective (RTO) measured in hours or days. This strategy involves provisioning all cloud resources and recovering backups after an outage or other event has occurred.

Pilot light

The pilot light approach replicates data from one region to another and provisions a copy of the core workload infrastructure. The resources required to support data replication and backup, such as databases and object storage, are always on but other elements such as application servers are switched off and only used during testing or a real failover. Unlike the previous approach, the core infrastructure is always available so users can quickly provision a full-scale production environment by switching on and scaling application servers. This approach is best for services that have an RPO and RTO measured in the tens of minutes and is more expensive than backup and restore.

Warm standby

For business-critical services that have RPOs and RTOs measured in minutes, warm standby involves having services always running on a smaller scale and scaling them up after an event. This approach also makes it easier to perform tests or implement continuous testing to increase confidence in the ability to recover from a disaster.

Multi-site active/active

For mission-critical services that require zero downtime, multi-site active/active is the best approach. This involves running the workload simultaneously in multiple regions, so users can access the workload in any region in which it’s deployed. This is the most complex and costly form of cloud disaster recovery but enables zero downtime for end users.

How easy is it to adopt a cloud disaster recovery plan?

Moving from traditional disaster recovery to cloud disaster recovery can be complex so it’s essential to build out a comprehensive plan to ensure you have the right processes in place. These are the steps required to build a plan for DR in the cloud:

Define and maintain your application tiers

The first step is to define your cloud workloads and services into criticality tiers and maintain documentation on the tiers and the RPOs and RTOs associated with each. 

Build your recovery plans

Determine your disaster recovery strategy by the category of workload. No matter what application recovery tier you’re addressing, you need to build out your cloud disaster recovery strategy, describing how to fully recover workloads and services after any automatic failover or backups are complete.

Once you have defined your cloud recovery strategy by workload tier you can build your plan with the steps required to bring each function back online to the original region or availability zone. Your cloud disaster recovery plan should include both technical and business steps and be regularly tested to ensure effectiveness.

Structure your plans for efficiency and visibility

Runbooks are an essential tool for managing effective disaster recovery in the cloud. Usually, the best approach for efficient DR in the cloud is to create a parent runbook for the entire recovery event which can be overseen by the event organizer and link this parent to service-level runbooks which are delegated out to each service owner or application team. 

Find out more about disaster recovery team roles and responsibilities.

Enhance with automation

You can streamline your cloud DR process with automated disaster recovery by integrating your recovery plans with your IT service management (ITSM), business continuity management (BCM), and continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) tools for full visibility and control across your recovery.

Measure RTAs against RTOs

Regular testing enables you to measure your recovery RTAs against planned RTOs and assess where improvements need to be made. Consistent, repeatable testing will help you continuously improve your recovery processes and ensure RTOs are met when a real outage occurs. Tracking these results can also help you meet regulatory requirements. 

The benefits of having a cloud DR strategy

Having a cloud disaster recovery strategy is essential - even with the resilience benefits offered by the cloud, there are no guarantees that a disaster will not occur and outages are inevitable. If you’ve migrated to the cloud, your old on-premises disaster recovery plans will also not apply to this new architecture and will need to be adjusted accordingly. 

Having a cloud DR strategy comes with a number of benefits, including:

  • Faster recovery
  • Reduced recovery costs
  • High availability
  • Better compliance

How Cutover can help with cloud DR

Finding the right IT disaster recovery solution is essential for ensuring disaster recovery in the cloud is a success. Here’s how Cutover’s collaborative automation runbook platform can help you plan, execute, and audit your cloud disaster recoveries:

Codify and automate cloud disaster recovery plans

Cutover’s automated, dynamic runbooks reduce the complexity of cloud disaster recovery planning and execution. Use Cutover to build a central repository of application- or service-level recovery plan runbooks and integrate with cloud recovery tools.

Streamline cloud DR execution

Cutover acts as a centralized execution engine for all recovery activities, providing complete visibility across all cloud services and other automation tools with the open API. This allows you to integrate and execute recovery plans across multiple cloud services and third-party tools as well as manual tasks in one central location.

Increase visibility with real-time reporting and dashboards

Gain visibility of multi-application recovery progress with real-time dashboards for stakeholders and team members and capture RTAs to gain confidence that you can meet RTOs.

Prove cloud resilience to regulators with the recovery audit trail 

Test scenarios for disaster recovery in the cloud and easily prove the success of the experiment or failover to regulators with Cutover’s auto-generated audit trail.

Cutover’s Collaborative Automation SaaS platform enables enterprises to simplify complexity, streamline work, and increase visibility. Cutover’s automated runbooks connect teams, technology, and systems, increasing efficiency and reducing risk in IT disaster, cyber and cloud recovery, cloud migration, release management, and technology implementation. Cutover is trusted by world-leading institutions, including the three largest US banks and three of the world’s five largest investment banks.

Book a demo to learn more about how Cutover helps standardize and automate disaster recovery in the cloud.

Chloe Lovatt
Cloud disaster recovery
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