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What to look for in a robust BCDR solution

Why expecting the worst may be the best way to protect your clients’ digital assets

In his opening address at the March MSP Technology Day on Cyber Resilience, Datto CEO Tim Weller warned of the risk posed by ‘cyber attackers at scale’, pointing out that business continuity no longer means protection against server crashes, internet disruptions, accidental data deletions, and occasional natural disasters, but now also includes defence against organised criminal activity and even nation-state attackers.

He said: “Defending your own business and your clients’ businesses in this new world means an approach that combines technology, people, processes, and the right partners. We call this new approach cyber resilience. It’s a mindset that extends well beyond buying security point solutions and also acknowledges that cyber attacks will breach the castle walls from time to time.”

Clearly, organisations should do all they can to prevent this from happening by investing in appropriate security solutions and staff training. However, they should also work on the basis that a breach will occur at some point.

Datto calls this having ‘an assumed breach mentality’.

Justine Harris, Sales Director, UKI at Datto, said: “It is not always the case that businesses that fall victim to ransomware or malware don’t have good security in place. Sometimes a breach is caused by human error or an insider threat that might be harder to guard against. Equally, data might be lost through hardware failure, a fire, flood or deliberately calculated criminal activity. Organisations have to recognise these risks and plan accordingly.”

That means implementing a Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery (BCDR) solution as a last line of defence, so that if, or rather when, the worst happens your clients can continue to operate while you restore a safe environment for them.

BCDR solutions automate and manage backup and recovery processes for servers, files, PCs, and SaaS applications, using backup, snapshot, virtualisation, and the cloud to protect data and enable fast restores.

The process is described in Datto’s BCDR Buyer’s Guide for MSPs:

“After an initial full server backup, BCDR software takes incremental snapshots to create ‘recovery points’, or point-in-time server images. Recovery points are used to restore primary server data to a specific point in time (i.e. before it failed). They can also be mounted or ‘virtualised’ to recover server operations on a secondary device or in the cloud. This process is known as failover.”

Modern BCDR solutions with cloud DRaaS as standard provide local and cloud backup and local and cloud failover and restore capabilities to meet a variety of recovery scenarios, from restoring a few lost files to a complete server failure. Some also offer additional capabilities like file and folder restore, ransomware detection and rollback, server image export, and bare metal recovery.

Backup is not enough
It is clear from this description that there is much more to BCDR than just backup.

While backup is an important component of BCDR, it is only one element of a complete solution. “It will enable clients to recover their data and applications, but perhaps not that quickly, if it involves the contents of an entire server or if, because of hardware failure, new equipment needs to be ordered,” explained Harris.

For small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), the speed of restoration is critical and can have a big bearing on the overall cost of any interruption to normal business operations.

Datto’s fifth annual Global State of the Channel Ransomware Report, published in November 2020, showed that between 2018 and 2020, the cost of downtime from a successful ransomware attack sky-rocketed from $46,800 to $274,200 – a rise of almost 600%.

Reduced productivity was singled out as the greatest contributory factor to this cost, cited by 62% of MSPs surveyed, followed by business-threatening downtime (39%), lost data or devices (28%), lower profitability (24%) and the ransom demand itself (19%).

Harris added: “Significantly, nine out of 10 MSPs said that clients with BCDR solutions in place were less likely to experience significant downtime during a ransomware attack. With SMEs facing greater risks to their systems and data and increased vulnerability due to Work from Home, BCDR is likely to become an ever more important part of an MSP’s offering to clients. It’s also important to remember that no business is too small to be attacked, and BCDR is just as relevant to these smaller organisations”.

What, then, should MSPs look for – or look at – when choosing a BCDR solution?

Software-only or all-in-one?
A key decision is whether to choose a software-only solution that can be used on existing hardware with backups in the public or private cloud or an all-in-one offering from a single vendor that includes hardware, software, and the BCDR provider’s own cloud.

Looked at from the perspective of affordability, the former can appear an attractive option; the software can run on existing hardware with backups to the public cloud paid for on a consumption basis.

However, while such solutions are generally less expensive initially, the total cost of ownership can be greater in the long-run due to a number of factors, from unexpected cloud costs (see below) to greater maintenance costs that can be incurred in a multi-vendor solution, for example when a software update to one element creates problems with another component of the overall solution.

As with any multi-vendor solution, there is also the potential for vendors of the constituent parts to deny responsibility for problems that do occur, making it harder for MSPs to provide a speedy resolution to any fault. With an all-in-one solution, they get single-vendor support across hardware software and the cloud.

Not all clouds are the same
MSPs that choose a software-only solution should also ask themselves whether the cloud service they use is appropriate as not every cloud has been developed with BCDR in mind.

What does that mean?
As described earlier, the cloud has two functions in BCDR: it serves as an offsite storage repository for tertiary backup server images used for restores; and, secondly, it enables a virtual machine (VM) to be mounted in the cloud to take over primary server operations during failover.

All public cloud providers will offer server and storage infrastructure. However, unless they are optimised for BCDR, costs can be unpredictable and complex. If there are different tiers for compute, storage and security, customers can face big (and unwelcome) spikes in costs, for example when mounting and running a recovery virtual machine (VM) or when downloading a large data set from the cloud to restore a server, which can also incur egress fees; customers might not be fully supported during disaster recovery operations; and there are the usual questions over the shared model of the public cloud, which places responsibility for the security of the data squarely with the owner and not the cloud provider.

For MSPs, cloud costs can also complicate billing. If you opt to use a public cloud, will you build estimated restore costs into your monthly fees for clients or will restore costs be billed separately? What happens if you under-estimate costs?

That said, Datto recognises that there will be MSPs who favour a software-only solution, and to meet their needs it does provide a flat-fee, software-only BCDR through Datto vSIRIS.

“This gives MSPs a lower cost solution plus the benefits of DRaaS via the Datto Cloud, including predictable cloud compute performance and dedicated tech support during disaster recovery operations, including failover and failback; and security features, such as invariable backup snapshots that cannot be infected with ransomware,” explained Harris.

The benefits of all-in-one
For MSPs that require a BCDR solution covering hardware, as well as software and the cloud, there are big benefits in choosing an all-in-one solution. These include:

*Greater ease-of-use;
*The convenience of dealing with just one vendor for hardware, software, and cloud;
*One predictable monthly fee for hardware, software and cloud storage, compute and restore costs (dependent on supplier), keeping OPEX costs and margins on services predictable;
*No unexpected cloud costs;
*The right-sizing of hardware for each client deployment, reducing manual labour and the risk of configuration errors; and
*The option to replace hardware and upgrade capacity to meet customers’ changing needs.

Harris points out that,with its Unified Continuity suite, Datto is well placed to provide MSPs with customised solutions to meet their clients’ needs.

She said: “When things go wrong, as they surely will at some point, businesses want several things: access to data with minimal data loss; speedy restoration; and reliable recovery. Datto’s BCDR solutions, including the Datto Cloud, are designed to provide all three.”

To find out more about Unified Continuity, contact us today.
************************************************************************************** A DRaaS Checklist

*Is it purpose-built for MSPs?
*Is it purpose-built for BCDR or does it rely on legacy local backup systems?
*Is it a private or public cloud?
*Is it an all-in-one solution—a single vendor for hardware, software, and cloud?
*Does it offer flexible deployment options—appliance, virtual, or software?
*Can it meet your clients’ RTO and RPO requirements?
*Will it prepare you for the growing threat of ransomware?
*Does it have proven performance to minimise downtime in a disaster?
*Is it a predictable flat fee cost model, or are there complicated pricing tiers?

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