Thursday, April 26, 2012

Case Study: Strategic Approach to Disaster Recovery and Data Lifecycle Management Pays Off for Australia's SAI Global

Transcript of a sponsored podcast on how compliance services provider SAI Global successfully implemented a disaster recovery project with tools from VMware.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod. Download the transcript. Sponsor: VMware.

Dana Gardner: Hi, this is Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, and you’re listening to BriefingsDirect.

Today, we present a sponsored podcast discussion on how business standards and compliance services provider SAI Global has benefited from a strategic view of IT enabled disaster recovery (DR).

We'll see how SAI Global has brought advanced backup and DR best practices into play for its users and customers. We will further learn how this has not only provided business continuity assurance, but it has also provided beneficial data lifecycle management and virtualization efficiency improvement.

Here to share more detail on how standardizing DR has helped improve many aspects of SAI Global’s business reliability, please join me now in welcoming Mark Iveli, IT System Engineer at SAI Global, based in Sydney, Australia. Welcome to BriefingsDirect, Mark. [Disclosure: VMware is a sponsor of BriefingsDirect podcasts.]

Mark Iveli: Hi, Dana. Thanks for having me.

Gardner: My pleasure. Let’s start from a high level. What do you think is different about DR, the requirements for doing good DR now versus five years ago?

Iveli: At SAI Global we had a number of business units that all had different strategies for their DR and different timings and mechanisms to report on it.

Through the use of VMware Site Recovery Manager (SRM) in the DR project, we've been able to centralize all of the DR processes, provide consistent reporting, and be able to schedule these business units to do all of their testing in parallel with each other.

So we can make a DR session, so to speak, within the business and just run through the process for them and give them their reports at the end of it.

Gardner: It sounds like a lot of other aspects of IT. Things had been done differently within silos, and at some point, it became much more efficient, in a managed capacity, to do this with a strategic perspective, a systems-of-record perspective. Does that make sense?

Complete review

Iveli: Absolutely. The initiative for DR started about 18 months ago with our board, and it was a directive to improve the way we had been doing things. That meant a complete review of our processes and documentation.

When we started to get into DR, we handled it from an IT point of view and it was very much like an iceberg. We looked at the technology and said, "This is what we need from a technology point of view." As we started to get further into the journey, we realized that there was so much more that we were overlooking.

We were working with the businesses to go through what they had, what they didn’t have, what we needed from them to make sure that we could deliver what they needed. Then we started to realize it was a bigger project.

The first 12 months of this journey so far has been all around cleaning up, getting our documentation up to spec, making sure that every business unit understood and was able to articulate their environments well. Then, we brought all that together so that we could say what’s the technology that’s going to encapsulate all of these processes and documentation to deliver what the business needs, which is our recovery point objective (RPO) and for our recovery time objective (RTO).

Gardner: All right. Before we delve a bit deeper into what DR is doing for you and maybe tease out a bit more about this whole greater than the sum of the parts, tell us about SAI Global and your responsibilities and specifically how you got involved with this particular project.

When we started to get into DR, we handled it from an IT point of view and it was very much like an iceberg.



Iveli: I'm a systems engineer with SAI Global, and I've been with the company for three years. When the DR project started to gather some momentum, I asked to be a significant part of the project. I got the nod and was seconded to the DR project team because of my knowledge of VMware.

That’s how I got into the DR project. I've spent a lot of time now working with SRM and I've become a lot less operational. I've had a chance to be in front of the business and do a little bit of the BA work of IT to work with these business units and say, "This is what your application is doing and this is what we can see it’s doing through the use of Application Discovery Manager. Is this what you guys know your applications to do?"

We've worked through those rough edges to bring together their documentation. They would put it together, we would review it, we would all then sit around and agree on it, and put the information into the DR plans.

From the documentation side of things, I've worked with the project manager and our DR manager to say, "This is how we need to line up our script. This is how we need to create our protection grid. And this is how the inventory mappings are all going to work from a technical point in SRM."

Gardner: Just briefly, what is SAI Global about? Are you in the business of helping people manage their standards and provide compliance services?

Umbrella company

Iveli: SAI Global is an umbrella company. We have three to four main areas of interest. The first one, which we're probably most well-known for, is our Five Ticks brand, and that’s the ASIS standards. The publication, the collection, the customization to your business is all done through our publishing section of the business.

That then flows into an assurance side of the business, which goes out and does auditing, training, and certification against the standards that we sell.

We continue to buy new companies, and part of the acquisition trail that we have been on has been to buy some compliance businesses. That’s where we provide governance risk and compliance services through the use of Board Manager, GRC Manager, Cintellate, and in the U.S., Integrity 360.

Finally, last year, we acquired a company that deals solely in property settlement, and they're quite a significant section of the business that deals a lot with banks and convincing firms in handling property settlements.

So we're a little bit diverse. All three of those business sections have their own IT requirements.

Gardner: I suppose, like many businesses, your brand is super important. The trust associated with your performance is something you will take seriously. So DR, backup and recovery, business continuity, are top-line issues for you.

Because of what we do, especially around the property settlement and interactions with the banks, DR is critical for us.



Is there anything about what you've been doing as a company that you think makes DR specifically important for you, or is this just generally something you think all businesses really need to master?

Iveli: From SAI Global’s point of view, because of what we do, especially around the property settlement and interactions with the banks, DR is critical for us.

Our publishing business feels that their website needs to be available five nines. When we showed them what DR is capable of doing, they really jumped on board and supported it. They put DR as high importance for them.

As far as businesses go, everyone needs to be planning for this. I read an article recently where something like 85 percent of businesses in the Asia-Pacific region don’t have a proper DR strategy in place. With the events that have happened here in Australia recently with the floods, and when you look at the New Zealand earthquakes and that sort of stuff, you wonder where the businesses are putting DR and how much importance they've got on it. It’s probably only going to take a significant event before they change their minds.

Gardner: I was really intrigued, Mark, when you said what DR is capable of doing. Do you feel that there is a misperception, perhaps an under-appreciation of what DR is? What is this larger whole that you're alluding to that you had to inform others in your organization about?

Process in place

Iveli: The larger whole was just that these business units had a process in place, but it was an older process and a lot of the process was designed around a physical environment.

With SAI Global being almost 100 percent virtual, moving them into a virtual space opened their minds up to what was possible. So when we can sit down with the business units and say, "We're going to do this DR test," they ask if it will impact production. No, it won’t. How is it happening? "Well, we are going to do this, this, and this in the background. And you will actually have access to your application the way it is today, it’s just going to be isolated and fenced off."

They say, "This is what we've been waiting for." We can actually do this sort of stuff. They're starting to see and ask, "Can we use this to test the next version of the applications and can we test this to kind of map out our upgrade path?"

We're starting to move now into a slightly different world, but it has been the catalyst of DR that’s enabled them to start thinking in these new ways, which they weren’t able to do before.

Gardner: So being able to completely switch over and recover with very little interruption in terms of the testing, with very little downtime or loss, the opportunity then is to say, "What else can we do with this capability?"

It has been the catalyst of DR that’s enabled them to start thinking in these new ways, which they weren’t able to do before.



I have heard about people using it for migrations and for other opportunities to literally move their entire infrastructure, their virtual assets. Is that the sort of thing you're getting at -- that this is larger than DR? It’s really about being able to control, manage, and move your assets?

Iveli: Absolutely. With this new process, we've taken the approach of baby steps, and we're just looking to get some operational maturity into the environment first, before we start to push the boundaries and do things like disaster avoidance.

Having the ability to just bring these environments across in a state that’s identical to production is eye-opening for them. Where the business wants to take it is the next challenge, and that’s probably how do we take our DR plan to version 2.0.

We need to start to work with the likes of VMware and ask what our options are now. We have this in place, people are liking it, but they want to take it into a more highly available solution. What do we do next? Use vCloud Director? Do we need to get our sites in an active/active pairing?

However, whatever the next technology step is for us, that’s where the business are now starting to think ahead. That’s nice from an alignment point of view.

Gardner: Now, you mentioned that your organization is almost 100 percent virtualized. It’s my understanding from a lot of users as well that being highly virtualized provides an advantage and benefit when heading to DR activities. Those DR maturation approaches put you in a position to further leverage virtualization. Is there sort of a virtuous adoption pattern, when you combine modern DR with widespread virtualization?

Outside the box

Iveli: Because all of a sudden, your machines are just a file on a data store somewhere, now you can move these things around. As the physical technologies continue to advance -- the speed of our networks, the speed of the storage environments, metro clustering, long haul replication -- these technologies are allowing businesses to think outside of the box and look at ways in which they can provide faster recovery, higher availability, more elastic environments.

You're not pinned down to just one data center in Sydney. You could have a data center in Sydney and a data center in New Zealand, for instance, and we can keep both of those sites online and in sync. That’s couple of years down the track for our business, but that’s a possibility somehow through the use of more virtualization technology.

Gardner: Perhaps another way to look at it too would be that your investments to get to a high level of virtualization, server virtualization, pays back dividends, when you move to advanced DR, is that fair?

Iveli: Yes, that’s a fair comment, a fair way to sum it up.

Gardner: Tell us a little bit about your use of VMware vCenter SRM. What version are you using now and have you been progressing along rapidly with that?

Iveli: We've installed SRM 4.1 and our installation was handled by an outsource company, VCPro. They were engaged with us to do the installation and help us get the design right from a technical point of view.

Trying to make it a daily operational activity is where the biggest challenge is, because the implementation was done in a project methodology.



Trying to make it a daily operational activity is where the biggest challenge is, because the implementation was done in a project methodology. Handing it across to the operational teams to make it a daily operation, or a daily task, is where we're seeing some challenges. A new contract admin has come on board, and they don’t quite understand the environment. So they put a machine in the wrong spot, or some use of storage is provisioned and it’s not being replicated and it is designed for a P1 recovery ranking.

That’s what my role is now -- keeping the SRM environment tuned and in line with what the business needs. That’s where we're at with SRM.

Gardner: Certainly, the constant reliability and availability of all your assets, regardless of external circumstances, is the number one metric, but are there any other metrics during your journey, as you called it, that you can point to that indicate whether you have done this right, or what it pays back -- reliability certainly, but what else is there in terms of a measurement of success?

Iveli: That's an interesting question. When I put this to the DR team yesterday, the only real measurements that we have has been the RPO and the RTO. As long as all the data that we needed was being replicated inside the 15-minute timeframe, that was one of our measurements.

Timely manner

Through the use of the HP Enterprise Virtual Array (EVA) monitoring, we've been able to see and ensure that our DR tunnels are being replicated correctly and within a timely manner.

The other one was the RTO, which we have been able to measure by the report from SRM showing us the time it has taken to present the failover these machines. So we're very confident that we can meet both our RPO and RTO through the use of these metrics.

Gardner: Any advice for those listening in who are beginning their journey? For those folks that are recognizing the risks and seeing these larger benefits, these more strategic benefits, how would you encourage them to begin their journey, what advice might you offer?

Iveli: The advice would be to get hired guns in. With DR, you're not going to be able to do everything yourself. So spend a little bit more money and make sure that you get some consultants in like VCPro. Without these guys, we probably would have struggled a little bit just making sure that our design was right. These guys ensured that we had best practice in our designs.

Before you get into DR, do your homework. Make sure that your production environment is pristine. Clean it up. Make sure that you don’t have anything in there that’s wasting your resources.

Come around with a strong business case for DR. Make sure that you've got everybody on board and you have the support of the business.

Make sure that your production environment is pristine. Clean it up. Make sure that you don’t have anything in there that’s wasting your resources.



When you get into DR, make sure that you secure dedicated resources for it. Don't just rely on people coming in and out of the project. Make sure that you can lead people to the resource and you make sure that they are fully engaged in the design aspects and the implementation aspects.

And as you progress with DR, incorporate it as early as you can into your everyday IT operation. We're seeing that, because we held it back from our operations, just handing it over and having them manage the hardware and the ESX and the logical layers, the environment, they were struggling just to get their head around it and what was what, where should this go, where should that go.

And once it’s in place, celebrate. It can be a long haul. It can be quite a trying time. So when you finally get it done, make sure that you celebrate it.

Gardner: And perhaps a higher degree of peace of mind that goes with that.

Iveli: Well, you'll find out when you get through it, how much easier this is making your life, how much better you can sleep at night.

Gardner: Well, great. We've been talking about business standards and compliance provider, SAI Global, and how they have benefited from a strategic view of IT-enabled DR processes and methods.

I'd like to thank our guest, Mark Iveli. He is IT System Engineer at SAI Global. I appreciate your time, and it was very interesting. Thank you, Mark.

Iveli: Thank you.

Gardner: This is Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions. Thanks also to our audience for listening, and come back next time.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod. Download the transcript. Sponsor: VMware.

Transcript of a sponsored podcast on how compliance services provider SAI Global successfully implemented a disaster recovery project with tools from VMware.
Copyright Interarbor Solutions, LLC, 2005-2012. All rights reserved.

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