Guest Blog Post by John Skarja, Enterprise Architect at Niagra Health
Healthcare IT, particularly business continuity (BC) and disaster recovery (DR) a, can be one of the most challenging jobs in the industry. Data is often personal, sensitive and legally protected by HIPAA and other compliance mandates. Service Level Agreements (SLA) for recovery times are short to avoid impeding on patient care and increasing ransomware attacks pose an immediate threat. My company, Niagara Health (NH), one of the largest hospital systems in Ontario, faced this challenge, and we found that we were not ready. NH comprises five sites serving over 450,000 residents across 12 municipalities; NH has 4,800 employees, 600 physicians, 850 volunteers, and a significant need for fast, reliable DR.
Before Zerto, recovering from an outage would have been near impossible
We honestly did not have a solution to failover workloads prior to Zerto. We didn’t even have redundant restore capabilities, so while we had a copy of the backup tape offsite, we had no way to actually restore at the alternate site. We had no library there to mount the tape or backup server in order to complete the restore. It became obvious during BC/DR planning that any outage at the main datacenter site would cause an extended outage with no way to fail over without requiring additional equipment and setup times.
Zerto lets us protect all applications (including Meditech) with ease
Today, we use Zerto to meet our BC/DR goals. We first wanted to address some key applications on our initial pass at BC/DR, then our plan was to assess other application as they came in or when existing systems were upgraded. We preferred a single solution to address all of our needs. Because of healthcare apps (including Meditech), it was a bit challenging to find a single solution. We felt, after looking at options, that Zerto was a much better choice than VMware’s Site Recovery Manager (SRM).
If we went with SRM, we would have to do a combination of VMware replication (for those applications that didn’t require the highest level of RPOs), and then array-based replication (for those applications needing higher recovery point objectives (RPOs). When we pondered this, we realized the array-based replication was going to become challenging. We would need to redo our current VMware storage deployment on the array and end up replicating VMs we didn’t really need to protect. Also, once the datastores became full, we would have to be extremely careful on what we would store in vMotion to another datastore. Overall, SRM was going to add complexity and chances for errors. Going with Zerto meant continuous replication with more granular checkpoints to choose from.
Zerto also keeps us from getting locked into one type of storage. We are free to bring in different storage solutions since we are not doing array-based replication.
Zerto also wins over SRM because of how straightforward the upgrade process on VMware. (Not to mention, Zerto upgrades are extremely easy).
We also like the application consistency achievable with Zerto. Prior to Zerto we would have no way to failover between our two active sites.
Finally, we preferred the journal capabilities to snapshots.
Zerto helps us sleep at night
Prior to Zerto we’ve had a few instances of downtime, but we’ve been fortunate that since purchasing Zerto we haven’t really had anything significant happen. We are fortunate to have redundant systems. But since we cannot rely solely on fortune, Zerto does help us sleep better.
Next Stop: Cloud
We’re considering leveraging Zerto to move the DR to the cloud versus between datacenters. At some point one of our datacenters will be retired. Also, we can leverage Zerto to move these workloads to the other datacenter for production and then do the DR to the cloud.
Advice for Building a New DR Strategy
DR is about meeting the business unit’s needs. The business unit should be in charge of driving the recovery time objective (RTO)/RPO times, and IT should build a strategy to meet those needs. Ideally, this should be as simple as possible given the solution is most likely to be needed in high stress situations. The plan should be well documented and tested regularly. Try to avoid solutions that lock you into specific hardware. Leverage trial licenses to run POC’s that will give you comfort with solutions.
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