Mastering IT Disasters

Remember when you were a kid and wanted to be a superhero? I do. I always wanted to be like Wonder Woman. As an IT consultant I sometimes feel like a superhero. You know, coming to the rescue and saving the day. But what if there were a real IT superhero. How cool would that be? What kind of powers do you think he would have? Faster than a spreading virus, stronger than 256 bit encryption, able to load Windows 8 with a single command. Oh, who am I kidding? IT guys aren’t superheroes. Or are we?

If there were an IT superhero, I would like to think his superpower would be the ability to keep your business running no matter what type of disaster was thrown at him. The “Master of Disaster“… now that’s a catchy superhero name. What tools are we going to put in our superhero’s utility belt? (Hmmm… since he is an IT superhero maybe it would be more of a “utility pocket protector.”) Certainly backup would be the only tool he needs in preparing for a disaster. Wouldn’t it? I’m not so sure. What does backup do for our hero?

A backup in its simplest form is an additional copy of your data. Traditionally this copy would be stored on some form of external media like a USB hard drive. But will that be enough for the Master of Disaster to keep your business running when faced with a super villain like a complete server failure? I think not. Although your data may be safe, how are you going to access it? You need a server to store it on and to run the applications. Ordering a new server can take weeks. Preparing it for use can take even more time. The backup hardly meets the criteria for “saving the day.”

So, instead of a backup, what Master of Disaster needs is a spare server. You know, just sitting there waiting for disaster to strike. He would put in an automated routine of some sort that keeps all the data on it synchronized with the data on your main server. Luckily for our hero, this is one of the exciting new features built in to Windows Server 2012. That way when your main server fails, our hero can just swoop in and switch everyone over to the spare server. This is exactly what server replication does. It keeps a perfectly “in sync” replica of your server on another server. Preferably, in another location. Perfect, the day is saved. Or is it? What about other types of disasters?

How about the “Kryptonite” of every IT superhero? Who is this fiendish arch enemy of our beloved Master of Disaster? Well you probably know them best as the “End User.” Yes, that mild mannered Executive Assistant is really a dangerous super villain. When you least expect it the End User can strike, accidentally deleting all of last year’s financial data. What will our hero do now? You see, the replication he put in place to that spare server has just done exactly what it is designed to do. It is keeping an exact replica of all your data, including the deletion of those financials. That’s right, mere moments after hitting the delete key those documents were deleted from the replica. In this case what the Master of Disaster needs is a backup-preferably, a backup that has the ability to keep a history of files. You see, our favorite superhero knows that when the End User strikes, it may not be evident for a few days or even a few weeks. So just having a copy of your data from last night may not be enough.

So what does all of this mean for the Master of Disaster? What tools will he have in his utility pocket protector? For starters, he should put a proper backup at our superhero’s disposal. Something that includes getting a copy of user data offsite and keeps sufficient file versions and history to protect us against the dreaded End User. He should also get Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V with its built-in replication ability to keep us up and running in the face of those times when our main server is not available.