The anatomy of a failsafe business

The anatomy of a failsafe business

Companies in nearly every industry—from farming to medicine to education—have depended for many years on their IT environments operating quietly in the background. But, as businesses increasingly rely on their digital capabilities, the risk of an equipment failure or disaster has soared.

The gravity of the situation

What might have once been considered “a glitch in the system” can now have catastrophic consequences. The loss of data, costly downtime, and the inability to quickly restore an IT environment can put a company out of business. The longer a datacenter or critical services and applications are down, the more likely the catastrophe.

While the number of new ways IT can now drive business is exploding, the number of IT professionals on the planet is not. This is part of the reason why so many small and medium-size businesses depend on the expertise of outside IT services providers like Sydney-based Vigilant.IT. When the company formed in 1999, it quickly filled a niche in the marketplace, serving as the IT department for businesses in the region that were too small to have their own. For IT providers like Vigilant.IT, whose job it is to protect and store critical data assets for their customers, having the very best backup and disaster recovery solutions is their raison d’être.

When Vigilant.IT began to offer monitoring and backup-as-a-service—and later, services integration and its own hosting platform—it was bound by Australian law to save its customers’ data for a period of at least seven years. As its name would suggest, it did so vigilantly, building a state-of-the-art system to back up customers’ documents and records on tape and ship them for storage to an off-site vaulting facility.

For Vigilant.IT, everything—its business and its customer’s business—depends on making sure its customers’ critical data and applications are protected and available whenever they need them. With no exceptions. “Backup is paramount for us,” says Stephane Budo, Vigilant.IT’s Solutions Architect. “We guarantee our clients they will be legally compliant with the seven-year rule. If they come to us and say we want to restore from a specific week, from a specific month, we have to produce that data.” Vigiliant.IT was also using backup as a means of disaster recovery for its customers, manually synchronizing the daily backup from one datacenter to another.

Then, Budo began to detect the potential for exceptions. Tracking the reliability of the backup to tape revealed a failure rate as high as 40 percent. “I was starting to dread Monday mornings, when I would walk in and check out the backups for the weekend,” he says, “because something may have failed.” This exposed the company and its customers to a level of risk it was not willing to accept.

Simplifying a complex environment

In search of a way to solve and prevent problems and to streamline its operations, Vigilant.IT turned to Microsoft Operations Management Suite. With this solution, Budo and his team can manage and protect the company’s workloads across locations, operating systems, and virtualized servers in its increasingly complex hybrid cloud environment. With IT Automation, a component of Operations Management Suite, Vigilant.IT can deploy ready-made monitoring, provisioning, and configuration capabilities to automate frequently repeated and time-consuming tasks and reduce the possibility of error.

And, because Operations Management Suite seamlessly interoperates with Vigilant.IT’s System Center capabilities, the company can make the most of what it already owns by deploying cloud-scale resources to improve control, visibility, and security across its hybrid environment. In particular, the new system allowed the company to begin replacing its legacy tape program with Azure Backup cloud storage. Azure Backup protects the company’s and its customers’ data and applications no matter where they are: on computers running SQL Server on-premises, on virtual machines, or in the cloud. And, because Azure has near-infinite scalability, keeping up with data expansion over the mandated seven years is not a problem.

“Operations Management Suite eliminates our costs related to managing tape storage and reduces the failures during data and application recovery,” says Budo. “The interoperation between Microsoft Azure and System Center Data Protection Manager also makes the management of our backups and restores easier compared to tape management.”

A new way of doing IT

Not only is Vigilant.IT now operating a system that better protects its data stores and better serves its customers, but it also immediately began to save time and money. The backup-to-tape program had cost the company as much as 10 percent of a full-time employee’s work hours. In terms of invisible costs and overhead, that was the equivalent of Budo sitting in front of the computer for almost an entire month out of the year. “I spent 35 days out of the past 18 months on backup issues,” he says, “but now with Operations Management Suite and Azure Backup, I don’t spend nearly that amount of time. In the last two-and-a-half months, I have not spent more than 10 minutes addressing backup issues.”

Moving to Azure Backup eliminates the company’s tape library and frees up rack space in one of its datacenters so the team can use it for other purposes. Because Vigilant.IT now buys only the backup capacity it needs, it lowers the ongoing costs of continuous maintenance and reduces its operational expenditure. In the first month that the company backed up its customers’ data to Azure, it saw a 34 percent decrease in storage costs. And because Azure is scalable, the company can monitor and manage multiple backup systems and grow its business without large one-off investments.

Building confidence

Of course, ensuring its customers’ business continuity and productivity is only as good as ensuring its own. Before, if Vigilant.IT were to experience a disaster, an employee would follow a set of manual tasks to bring the IT infrastructure back up in the secondary site, a lengthy process that could take hours or even days.

As a part of Operations Management Suite, Azure Site Recovery orchestrates the entire process. “With Azure Site Recovery in Operations Management Suite, the recovery process is automated,” says Budo. “If someone declares a disaster at 2 AM, they can press one button to initiate a failover and then go back to bed worry-free.”

With Azure Site Recovery, Vigilant.IT has dramatically reduced its recovery point objective—the amount of work that can be lost and will need to be redone—as well as the recovery time objective—the amount of time it will take before employees can start working again. Budo and his team can also easily define different recovery point objectives for different customers and different types of data, so they can ensure the continued productivity of its customers’ environments across each of their IT assets. Azure Site Recovery also reduces the company’s investment in the hardware it once needed for compute, networking and storage related to disaster recovery by removing idle resources in its secondary datacenter.

Passing along the value

By minimizing the number of point solutions, Operations Management Suite also saves the company the time it was spending writing scripts. The solution provides it with an integrated management and monitoring system that includes a simple, single-pane-of-glass dashboard so Vigilant.IT can see the status of its backups and disaster recovery operations at a glance.

With a unified view of the health and performance of all its IT assets across platforms, the company can collect, analyze, and search millions of records across all of its workloads and servers—whether they are on-premises or in the cloud—and receive alerts to flag availability, configuration, or security issues. Increased functionality in network mapping across datacenters, operating systems, and hypervisors means Budo and his team can now more easily respond to the changing needs of the company and its customers.

These kinds of forward-thinking IT decisions—reinforcing protections, reducing the potential for error, and streamlining the management and monitoring of systems—translate directly into business benefits for Vigilant.IT’s customers. “It’s always been clear to us the way forward is cloud-based computing,” says Budo. “Azure Backup is part of that. Azure Site Recovery is part of that. From a business perspective, this means we expose ourselves less to problems. This is something that our customers are glad we are paranoid about.”

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