This content is part of the Essential Guide: Examine DR in the cloud from all angles

AWS disaster recovery business booming, but users find faults

AWS disaster recovery offers sophisticated cloud backup, but it takes plenty of know-how to make it work.

Amazon Web Services offers cheap storage and compute capacity accessible from virtually anywhere, but it's still not a perfect answer to disaster recovery problems.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) service, for example, doesn't offer native replication of workloads between Amazon regions for disaster recovery (DR).

There are third-party and native application-level tools that can be used to do the job, but the integration work required to make failover run smoothly can be tricky, according to Andres Silva, senior DevOps engineer for Inmar Inc., a Winston-Salem, N.C.-based promotion, logistics and pharmacy-billing firm.

"In our case, because our product relies so much on AWS … it would be impossible to do DR on-premises, so we have to go to another region," Silva said. "We're still working on it. We're halfway there."

Amazon does offer replication for its Relational Database Service, but other components of the application will need to have their own means of synchronization across regions, which can be difficult to keep track of, Silva said.

Other AWS users fear losing Internet connectivity to the cloud in the case of an outage, and take a "belt and suspenders" approach by backing up data in the cloud and on-premises.

With Amazon, "you definitely get the geographic diversification that you're looking for in disaster recovery," said Richard Calmas, chief executive officer of Neighborhood Pay Services, a financial services company for renters and property owners based in Newton, Mass. "But there's a certain comfort and immediacy to doing a physical backup locally."

Storage within Amazon costs pennies per month, but perpetually paying for storage capacity rather than paying once with a hosted backup provider isn't for everyone.

"I see the value in Amazon if we need to build out an application quickly," said Michael Warchut, senior network engineer at Monsoon Commerce, Inc., an e-commerce firm based in Portland, Ore. "But in general, I'm not a big believer in paying someone for something we could do ourselves."

Still, Amazon resellers and consultants say the AWS disaster recovery business is booming thanks to cheap storage and the ability to automate almost anything.

Modern DR within the cloud for enterprises sometimes means a hybrid approach between the traditional static secondary site and the ability to almost instantaneously conjure up new resources in the cloud, according to Kris Bliesner, CEO of 2nd Watch, a cloud computing consultancy and systems integrator in Seattle.

With so-called pilot-light DR, an IT shop can build out a fraction of its infrastructure on Amazon, and only scale the infrastructure up to full size in the event of a disaster.

A customer of Bliesner's in the federal space failed over into its environment on AWS from its on-premises site due to a hardware outage, and was able to stand up its entire data center in AWS within a couple of hours.

"Now they're running production in AWS and looking to fail over to another region," Bliesner said.

Still, there can be a learning curve to doing this, especially with replication integration.

"I'm waiting for one of the big guys like Commvault or Tivoli to pick up on the idea of pilot light," Bliesner said. "There isn't a platform offering from the AWS side, and you've got third-party tools that while they work, nobody's got an out-of-the-box product where you just push a button and get it up and running."

Beth Pariseau is senior news writer for Write to her at or follow @PariseauTT on Twitter.

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