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Amazon EC2 as a Business Continuity Platform

Ramp to Cloud for Enterprises, Disaster Recovery

Elastic Compute Cloud
Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) is a web service that enables you to launch and manage Linux/UNIX and Windows server instances in Amazon's data centers.

What makes Amazon EC2 different is that you use only the capacity that you need. This eliminates your need to make large and expensive hardware purchases, reduces the need to forecast traffic, and enables you to immediately deal with changes in requirements or spikes in popularity related to your application or service.

EC2 comes under the category of IaaS (Infrastructure As A Service) and provides a viable option for enterprises to allocate computing resources on demand. Some of the tenants of EC2 that will satisfy the needs of enterprises are :

  • Elastic: Amazon EC2 enables you to increase or decrease capacity within minutes, not hours or days.
  • Flexible: You have the choice of multiple instance types, operating systems, and software packages.
  • Reliable: Amazon EC2 offers a highly reliable environment where replacement instances can be rapidly and predictably commissioned.
  • Inexpensive: Amazon EC2 passes on to you the financial benefits of Amazon's scale.

Disaster Recovery Sites For Enterprises & Current Issues
Large enterprises justifiably spend lot of effort and infrastructure cost to set up their disaster recovery sites. These typically range from log shipping or replicating databases to a remote site and recover them and also all the application binaries, and other supporting services are replicated to remote site. Periodic disaster recovery drills have been conducted to ensure that in the event of a disaster to the primary data center the secondary DR site can be commissioned and put into operation.

The issues with the current enterprise Disaster Recovery architectures are :

  • The capital and operational expenditure for the Disaster Recovery sites are very high
  • The Disaster Recovery Sites are generally sized for the maximum peak capacity and lot of computing cost is wasted for the event with relatively low probability
  • If the Disaster Recovery sites are not sized for the full load and if there is a need to switch to disaster recovery site, then this may result in loss of business as the scaled down setup may not scale up for the peak business demands
  • If there is a issue with primary site and we switched to the disaster recovery site, till the time the primary site is fixed the business is prone to single point of failure as there will not be no further secondary sites to the disaster recovery sites.

Using EC2 as Viable Disaster Recovery Sites For Enterprises
As evident EC2 apart from a Cloud platform, it also provides several other benefits, that lets the enterprises to setup their Disaster recovery sites to a minimal configuration and grow in case of a need to switch to Disaster Recovery site and then expand further based on business needs.

While this provides cost benefits at the same time the EC2 in itself is fault tolerant so a single point of failure is avoided just in case you need to run your business from the disaster recovery site (EC2) for a while.

There are multiple types of instances that can help in reducing the costs for a disaster recovery site are listed below, an enterprise can arrive at a best model to satisfy the needs.

  • On-Demand Instances: On-Demand Instances let you pay for compute capacity by the hour with no long-term commitments.
  • Reserved Instances: Reserved Instances give you the option to make a low, one-time payment for each instance you want to reserve and in turn receive a significant discount on the hourly usage charge for that instance.
  • Spot Instances: Spot Instances allow customers to bid on unused Amazon EC2 capacity and run those instances for as long as their bid exceeds the current Spot Price.

Third-Party Tools
Already several third-party tools facilitate this process of utilizing the Cloud as a viable platform for disaster recovery as per the documentation ‘Amanda Enterprise for Cloud Based DR ‘ performs this required function and the below diagram is the courtesy of the vendor site about how this happens which closely matches with above mentioned points on disaster recovery using Cloud.

How About Security Concerns Of Moving Data To Remote Site

Amazon EC2 includes web service interfaces to configure firewall settings that control network access to and between groups of instances.

When launching Amazon EC2 resources within Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC), you can isolate your compute instances by specifying the IP range you wish to use, and connect to your existing IT infrastructure using industry-standard encrypted IPsec VPN.

Amazon Virtual Private Cloud is a secure and seamless bridge between a company's existing IT infrastructure and the AWS cloud. Amazon VPC enables enterprises to connect their existing infrastructure to a set of isolated AWS compute resources via a Virtual Private Network (VPN) connection. Below diagram is the courtesy from Amazon AWS Website about how the Virtual Private Clouds work.

However, there is lot to be done in terms of encryption, firewall and other aspects of enterprise network to public cloud connectivity, but these can be solved with appropriate options from the products and cloud provider.

Conclusion
EC2 and similar IaaS platforms provide multiple options for enterprises to move their disaster recovery site to a Cloud platform, careful analysis of the above mentioned pros and cons can help the enterprises to take an appropriate decision and action.

Disclaimer
The aim of this article is to promote Cloud utilization for enterprises by identifying the patterns that can be leveraged on, it is not for promoting individual vendors, However one such commercial product from vendor is chosen for the case study. However this may not reflect the view point of the organizations I work present or earlier all the views are my personal based on publicly available material.

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