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How the Cloud Speeds Disaster Recovery, Keeps Data Safe

Natural disasters operate outside humanity’s plans, so even the most formidable government agencies can find their data unexpectedly at risk.

Blizzards, fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, and tornados are a few of the extreme weather events that can leave an agency’s data useless by devastating its servers. That’s why agencies need to have a disaster recovery plan in place before disaster strikes.

Disaster recovery, or DR, is the documented strategy agencies use to recover after calamity harms their IT infrastructure. The cloud is subsequently becoming a vital part of disaster recovery by helping government entities protect their data when catastrophe strikes.

“What you’re seeing now is an idea around business continuity and disaster recovery,” Tres Vance, Amazon Web Services (AWS) Senior Solutions Architect, said during a July 17 GovLoop online training. “[It’s] the idea of a pilot light or a warm disaster recovery.”

Vance noted that a pilot light allows an organization to have a minimal number of services running securely in the cloud that can be scaled up as needed.

Walter Bigelow, Chief of IT Systems Management Division, Office of Science and Technology, said the cloud has helped him at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF).

“I have all the computing power I need but I still maintain ownership of my sensitive data,” he said.  “It’s bringing a great level of flexibility and empowering our developers.”

Bigelow noted that ATF had two data centers until about four years ago, with one in Oklahoma and another in West Virginia.

The Oklahoma server was shut down due to contractual issues, leaving the Martinsburg, West Virginia version ill-suited for a natural disaster roughly two years ago.

“We had to evacuate the building in 2016 because we got 40 inches of snow and there was concern about the roof collapsing,” Bigelow said. “We had to stand up some legitimate DR somewhere.”

“Was potential cost savings a part of that discussion? Yes,” he continued. For ATF, the driver was being able to reduce the number of redundant data centers the agency was using.

Bigelow said utilizing cloud in ATF’s disaster recovery strategy helped the agency protect its sensitive data while acting on mission objectives.

“We’ve got a standard structure code environment so we can start cookie-cutting underlying infrastructure,” he said. “Cloud-based disaster recovery systems provide the flexibility to burst [or scale] when we need to burst.”

Kirk Kern, CTO at NetApp’s Americas Office of Technology and Strategy, said that the cloud boosts the speed and scale of agencies’ recovery efforts while reducing their costs.

“The idea is we’re trying to simplify all of this and make it easier to manage,” he said.  “We have the ability to encrypt your data and manage your data on [premise].”

“Should a disaster occur, it only takes a few simple steps to get applications up and running in the cloud,” Kern added.

Bigelow added that government employees can boost disaster readiness by preparing their personal data for the worst.

“I think individuals need to ensure that the data they’re keeping on their local machines and devices are backed up in some form or another,” he said.

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