Virtualisation and cloud are bringing greater flexibility, agility and capabilities to users – but very little has been done to test data recovery plans. This lack of preparation can have serious consequences if a data disaster strikes. Adoption might be inevitable but it takes time and investment to create a data recovery plan that can protect businesses. It might require some cost upfront but safeguarding data can provide long term savings that are too big to ignore.

Over the past few months Kroll Ontrack has conducted research with VMWare to gauge perceptions about virtualisation and the issue of data recovery. While both have gained a lot of ground in terms of adoption, our findings reveal that most organisations fail to test and implement data recovery plans. This is a serious oversight when one considers the surge of information being transferred into virtual environments – and the impact that losing it can have on the reputation and financial performance of a company.

Data Loss and Virtualisation – Reality Check

Data loss isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when businesses adopt a virtualised environment. Organisations are often too caught up with the benefits that these trends bring –namely the cost savings associated with maximising the use of computing resources and streamlining processes.

However, businesses that buy too much into the cost saving benefits of trends like virtualisation don’t take the necessary measures to protect data and end up having major data losses. Users will only make cost savings with virtualisation if the implementation is solid and data is secure.

In a virtualised environment the most important component is the data and this is the only thing that does not get virtualised. Users can reconstruct and recreate any other component in a virtual environment within seconds and with just a few clicks, but this cannot be done with the data that is created in one’s virtual environment.

Therefore, while businesses can make savings everywhere else in a virtual environment they should be spending more money protecting the data when they move to a virtual environment. Of course, this seems to go against what virtualisation is about, which is saving money. But up-front investment to protect data is more important in order to avoid even costlier data losses down the line.

Increased Chance of Losing Data

According to a survey completed by 338 IT professionals at a recent VMWorld conference, 37% of respondents believe that virtualisation significantly decreases the chances of data loss. In reality, the chance of minimising data loss is only possible if data backups are performed correctly and tested carefully. Otherwise, the impact of data loss is greater than before, since a data disaster in a virtualised world can bring down many servers that share the same storage.

Surprisingly, 20% of respondents believe that virtualisation doesn’t affect the chance of data loss at all. Are they not responsible for backups/data recovery? Perhaps they do not understand the complexity of virtualised systems? Data loss is always an issue, regardless of what IT infrastructure is used.

Rebuilding Data Creates More Risk

Another important finding of the survey is respondents’ answers to the question of what to do to recover lost data. 36% of respondents said if virtualised data is lost they would try to rebuild the data themselves instead of calling a data recovery company. 22% of respondents said they would take this decision.

Doing it yourself often makes data recovery much harder – and in some cases impossible to retrieve anything. A lot of the complexity is hidden from the users and administrators when systems are virtualised. Without a solid data recovery programme, it’s very easy to lose data. There are too many risks involved in rebuilding data and using a reputed recovery company is the best option to avoid any problems.

Lack of Data Recovery Plans

In another survey, respondents were asked whether they tested data recovery plans regularly to ensure proper protocols are in place to protect data on virtualisation and the cloud. The survey, carried out at VMware Forums globally among 367 IT professionals reveals that while 62 % of survey respondents admitted to leveraging the cloud or virtualisation, only 33 % of these organisations tested data recovery.

This is an important finding – and a remarkable one – considering that 49 % of organisations also reported experiencing some type of data loss in the last year. 26 % of the respondents reported a data loss from a virtual environment while 3 % reported a loss from the cloud. 16 per cent who experienced data loss from both a virtual environment as well as the cloud.

Minimising Data Loss

Kroll Ontrack’s research shows how quickly cloud and virtualisation are gaining ground among organisations. However, history has taught us that data loss can occur in any environment- regardless of the specific technology. The way to reducing data loss risk and successfully recovering from a loss is asking the right questions prior to adopting a new storage medium and amending your policies and procedures accordingly.

Important questions to consider before adopting cloud or virtualisation include:

  • Are backup systems and protocols in place? Do these systems and protocols meet your own in-house backup standards?
  • Does your cloud vendor have a data recovery provider identified in its business continuity/disaster recovery plan?
  • What are the service level agreements with regard to data recovery, liability for loss, remediation and business outcomes?
  • Can you share data between cloud services? If you terminate a cloud relationship can you get your data back? If so, what format will it be in? How can you be sure all other copies are destroyed?

Managing Data Loss Incidents

In the survey conducted at VMWare forum, respondents were asked about their cloud provider’s ability to properly handle data loss incidents. 29 % cited a lack of confidence, compared to 55 % of respondents in 2011. Only 17 % of respondents confirmed that they test their data recovery plan regularly to check technical and personnel readiness against cloud or virtual data loss technical recovery capabilities. Around 13 % responded that they do not have a data recovery plan.

Virtualisation is the engine of cloud technology. If virtualisation fails, the cloud fails. Whether it is human error or an operating failure, it is important to know who to turn to. Yet only 14 per cent initially turn to a data recovery provider.

Critical Hour of Data Recovery

Many businesses underestimate the challenges of recovering data when things go wrong. They also don’t realise that’s there’s a critical time period following a data disaster when fast intervention by an expert will increase the chances of a successful recovery.

However, when disaster strikes people often panic and make the mistake of either trying to solve the problem themselves or handing over the data recovery task to a poorly qualified data recovery company. These approaches often lead to permanent loss and big consequences for businesses.

On average, the success rate of recovering data from failed HDDs is many times higher if the media comes to experienced engineers without having been worked on following a data loss. This is partly associated with inadvertent damage caused to the media in the process of trying to recover the data by a less experienced party. This is also true for data stored in cloud and virtualised spaces.

In fact, data loss incidents continue to grow in size and complexity as more organisations move into virtual environments. There has been a 140 per cent increase in virtual data loss when compared with the year before and this number will undoubtedly increase as more companies embrace new trends such as desktop virtualisation and BYOD. The only way to minimise these risks is to know which problems to watch out for and to seek professional help during the golden hour.

Minimising Financial Losses and Company Reputations

Even the smallest disruption to daily activity can have major implications for businesses and individual. The longer data is unavailable, the greater the impact on financial losses and corporate reputations. Organisations should establish a formal incident management plan which includes a data backup strategy. This will help to reduce the risk of losing data. A disaster recovery assessment should also be adopted which identifies a reputable data recovery service provider that staff can rely on when things go wrong.