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Disaster recovery options improve with WAN optimization

Disaster recovery plans are now a necessity for enterprises, and WAN optimization can improve the way DR policies work on the network and reduce costs.

Disaster recovery and business continuity policies and plans can improve greatly when enterprises use some sort of WAN optimization solution, according to a recent Forrester Research study commissioned by F5 Networks.

Forrester asked more than 500 companies -- 200 in North America -- with 1,000 or more employees how bandwidth affects their WANs and disaster recovery plans. The study focused in particular on feedback from IT, enterprise architecture and network operations leaders discussing current business continuity/disaster recovery (BC/DR) efforts, WAN issues, and bandwidth constraints on data replication.

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Forrester senior analyst Stephanie Balaouras said the study results illuminated one area of specific concern that most enterprises have traditionally paid little attention to -- loss of data on connections between remote sites. Among respondents, 90% said they have between five and 10 remote sites. Many respondents cited insufficient bandwidth as having a strong impact on their ability to extend replication or remote backup data protection, and 63% indicated that their current bandwidth prohibited them from doing the same for remote sites.

In many cases, the data loss has traditionally indicated a need for more bandwidth on the network. Recent findings, including Forrester's, now encourage enterprises to explore a different set of procedures before increasing bandwidth -- including adding more support for remote sites, improving existing replication technologies' performance, or expanding replication to other applications. Additional results showed that more than 75% of respondents felt that improving data recovery times and limiting data loss at the backup data center is highly important, with 82% of respondents agreeing that improving recovery time and limiting data loss without increasing bandwidth were necessary.

Respondents also said BC/DR accounts for an average of 21% of their overall IT budget, with 26% of total replication or remote backup costs going to bandwidth alone. In response, Forrester's study recommends that enterprises look into WAN optimization.

"Our concern is that companies are settling for stripped-down disaster recovery systems when they don't need to," said F5 director of product management Ameet Dhillon. "Disaster recovery efforts can be made many times more efficient by using WAN optimization devices and at a fraction of the cost companies are spending on bandwidth."

Forrester suggests that enterprises which are beginning the process of implementing WAN optimization options should evaluate WAN acceleration appliances by focusing on the vendors that have tested the interoperability of their appliances with independent software, storage and storage networking vendors.

Mike Healy, IT manager at Santa Barbara Charter, a charter airline, said he found that WAN optimization achieved everything it promised to do for the network. One key issue for Healy was keeping geographically dispersed offices in Santa Barbara, San Francisco and Washington D.C. linked and secure. Healy said that when he first looked into options for improving the speed of the current WAN connection, he came to only two conclusions: buy more bandwidth or optimize the existing bandwidth.

Further investigation showed it would be more cost-effective for Santa Barbara Charter to optimize existing bandwidth rather than buy all new hardware or additional bandwidth. Healy said that his final decision led the charter company to install the F5 WANjet. After optimization, Healy noticed that there was increased bandwidth to back up data. By optimizing the existing bandwidth, he not only saved on the cost of additional bandwidth but a few potential latency issues were also sidestepped. F5's WANjet uses a caching technology, meaning that traffic doesn't need to be continually reloaded, saving on both the overall demand for bandwidth and workers' time.

Santa Barbara Charter's end users were thrilled with the increased speed, which achieved the promised fivefold to sevenfold increase, Healy said. In addition, with all the offices linked, applications were working faster, and because F5's products work over secured SSL connections, the inter-office communications were now secured. One of the benefits Healy enjoys most is the reduced time it takes to do a system backup for disaster recovery, he said, adding that recovery time is now faster and shorter.

Santa Barbara Charter is just one of many companies that rolled out WAN optimization tools to aid in disaster recovery plans. According to Forrester's Balaouras, many more enterprises are soon to follow as they learn of potential threats to their business continuity and networks.

"Current risks warrant the need for DR policies," she said. "If not right now, regulations, stockholders or partners might require [that] enterprises have these policies in place before doing business in the future."

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