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August 6, 2012

Implementing Disaster Recovery Within the Education Sector

Paul Beal

As the IT industry continues to evolve and change to meet the needs of the customer in private and public sectors, a new IT paradigm emerges from the fray. Cloud computing is being heralded as new and innovative in the way service professionals deliver IT in a modern forward thinking educational establishment. It is envisaged that the IT definition of cloud computing is a style in which computing is massively scalable and is provided “as a service” using Internet technologies that is available to multiple customers. The cloud service is seen as an emerging IT development, enabling services and solutions as real time objectives over the Internet.

Utilizing a cloud solution to deliver disaster recovery (DR) and business continuity planning (BCP) is an emerging technology, although not supporting directly the pedagogy of teaching and learning as such. The underlining infrastructure and mechanisms that tutors and learners rely upon for delivering teaching and learning, whilst supporting the environment to enable effective teaching and learning is a crucial first step towards a full integrated shared service. Agreements on data and information security, change control, and governance will need to be developed along with the introduction of agreed sharing protocols, and updated IT/ILT strategies which reflect a collaborative approach.

The practice of disaster recovery within educational establishments to protect data and business critical systems is crucial to ensure business continuity. Critical contingency plans and procedures need to be in place to accommodate the ever changing needs of the organization and ensure that the data is recoverable in the event of a disaster.

Traditionally, educational establishments provide their own disaster recovery procedures in isolation of other organizations and are often disparate in nature. This leads to differentiated approaches employed to ensure data recovery. Different approaches employed by educational establishments involve tape backup, SAN storage backup or third party contractors offering an off-site solution.

Advancements in modern technology have offered private businesses a different route for their disaster recovery solutions; this is more commonly known as Cloud Recovery. Educational establishments have identified this resource as a viable alternative to their current procedures and practices; however none have implemented this as a solution within the UK.

It is expected that there will be significant interest from the sector, and possibly also from outside the “education vertical” as the Government continues to drive efficiency savings and lower the cost of operations across the public sector.

Heralded as emerging technology and building upon the remote hosting, cloud computing for disaster recovery is not without its drawbacks, the technology reduces costs by mirroring systems and data without the need for servers, thus decentralizing the nature of servers. However disaster recovery would be difficult due to the decentralized nature of the servers and there is the element of data security to consider by offering an off-site provision.

Most of the legacy systems offering a DR solution are comprised of a heterogeneous infrastructure and platform and this mixed hardware approach is common in most institutions, the cloud recovery scenario offers a chance to unify the process into a more homogeneous infrastructure. A cloud disaster recovery solution based upon a heterogeneous environment can deliver much faster recovery times, thus ensuring the BCP meets the policies and SLAs outlined in a disaster recovery policy. Since any disaster within an institution makes it vulnerable to the loss of data, an efficient disaster recovery process is paramount to restore any data loss. Any recovery times that extend into days or weeks can have serious repercussions in that funding may be withdrawn if any deadlines are not met as a result of a disaster.

The current financial pressures have made educational institutions look for a more sustainable and innovative way of managing their services, this also includes the IT infrastructure that underpins the teaching and learning. Innovations, regardless of their financial value, need to have an impact on delivering the sustainability of the data the institutions hold, this also includes the recovery of the data in the event of a disaster. The private sectors are making the emerging trends in disaster recovery clear to businesses and have been in practice for a number of years now. The public sector educational establishments have been slow to adopt this technology as a viable solution.

60% of private companies who lose their data due to a disaster shut down within six months due to their credibility and reliability of their business model; in education this could have a disastrous effect on student enrollments thus cutting the funding that is allocated to educational institutions by the government.

The current solution is a tape backup system; however this is a mechanical process that requires human intervention regarding backup tape rotation. Mechanical solutions may be prone to failure and tape systems are also prone to wear and tear.

The advantage for retrieving this data through the cloud is the data can be retrieved and restored almost immediately; whereas a current tape backup solution will require the retrieval and loading of the backup tapes into a mechanical solution. This is a time and resource issue and where data recovery is paramount to the institution, recovering the data is time sensitive to the business. The cloud solution offers the mobility to ensure the continuity of the business and provide data integrity by replication of systems, mirroring of systems and incremental backups thus offering various solutions in the event of a disaster.

Cloud computing within the private and commercial sector has in recent times attracted much advertising hype, whereas the progression of a cloud solution within the educational institutions is not progressing as quickly as the cloud vendors seem to suggest. The potential to offer a cost effective viable solution within education has attracted interest, the potential to offer effective and viable solutions within an educational institution for the delivery of a sustainable IT provision is significant.

The adoption of a cloud solution within education is perceived differently; senior managers raise concern over cost of implementation whereas IT professionals tasked with the delivery are concerned with data security. Both are in agreement that there is a driver to reduce the overall carbon footprint and offer a greener solution.

It is important to note that any development of a cloud-based solution to deliver DR and BCP within a FE institution will be impacted upon by external influences. The government landscape regarding education is constantly changing and the service provision supplied within FE is subjected to unpredictable economic climates that may affect any progression routes identified by IT departments.

This article is based on a much longer dissertation, which can can be made available by request to the author at paulbeal@hotmail.co.uk.

About the Author

Paul BealPaul Beal gained his Master’s Degree in 2011 in Education, Innovation and Enterprise and gained a BSc (Hons) Business Computing in 2005. A Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP, MCDST, MCITP), Paul has a keen interest in new and emerging technologies that directly support and underpin teaching and learning within the educational sector. With over 12 years of operational and infrastructural support of critical business systems within education and the private sector, Paul is in a privileged position to have a complete overview of strategic operations and how they affect infrastructural requirements and how this maps to the strategic planning of teaching and learning.