How a Large SaaS Company Reduced Expenses, Improved Recovery Time Objectives and Implemented a Disaster Recovery Plan

The situation

The large SaaS provider services a $100 billion industry. In the early 2000s, the client built several SaaS products for its target industry. The success of the product suite captured a large market share and impelled the client to acquire significant additional information technology (IT) resources. Customer demand also drove the client to improve on disaster recovery capabilities which, in turn, drove the client to consider an IT offsite hosting strategy.

Outcome Summary

  • Migration to Marion Data Center and began development on the second phase – mitigation of the primary site to another Involta data center
  • Reduced RTO to less than eight hours exceeding customer demands
  • Met financial objectives by delivering ROI of over $850,000 including hardware
  • Implementation of remote software and hardware access (including the ability to reboot servers), enabled off-site management and virtually eliminated travel costs

The Challenges

Rapid customer growth, industry regulation and compliance requirements

The client had to meet the challenges of rapid customer growth, industry regulation and increased compliance requirements while balancing significant investment in infrastructure costs and mitigation of potential disaster risk. Specifically, the client had to manage the dynamics:

  • Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) and SOC compliance required by the industry served was a primary challenge for the business to solve.
  • Customers required faster recovery time objectives (RTO) than the client was accustomed, should a major disaster occur.
  • Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) and SOC compliance were also required by the industry served. The infrastructure hosting solution, which included a colocation hosted environment for production and a servers-on-demand for disaster recovery, was complex and difficult to achieve within the stated RTO of 24 hours at the disaster recovery site.
  • Customers were demanding that the RTO be reduced to less than 12 hours and the test and proof of testing was required within 24 hours.

Incumbent solution projected to consume profit margins

Costs of the incumbent solution were unreasonably high and were projected to consume the company’s profit margin. In addition, the test environments located with the production environment did not have the capacity required to properly test the applications for performance and stress. Risk was an issue when new software was introduced into the production environment. While a test environment that simulated production was needed, funding was an issue.

Physical restrictions to disaster recovery plan

Customers required that the disaster recovery site be geographically separated from the production site so that a single natural disaster or power failure could not impact both data centers. Staff had to travel over 1200 miles in order to execute the disaster recovery plan. Should a natural disaster type of tragedy occur, restricted air flight and employee reluctance to travel so far from family would hinder a successful recovery.

Flaws in disaster recovery plans

Data was replicated from the primary production site to the secondary disaster recovery site over a 1 GB dedicated line. However, the secondary site’s internal infrastructure would be shared in the event of a disaster. If a disaster was declared, those entities had to be allocated and configured. If multiple tenants declared a disaster at the same time, resources may not have been available for use. One disaster would devastate the business and destroy a client’s ability to recovery within a matter of a few days. The disaster recovery plan was laden with risk for the client and was unacceptable.

The Transition

Develop a hosting strategy

The client anticipated a significant investment in hardware expenditures to meet the business demands of its customer. It needed a solution that provided enough margin to cost-justify its investment. Current-state analysis was performed and outlined the following business objectives for the client: Develop a hosting strategy for both primary and secondary data center sites that resulted in an overall positive return on investment for the client and included the following requirements.

Hosting strategy requirements

  • Reduction of RTO to under 12 hours
  • Put both the primary and secondary locations in concurrently maintainable data centers
  • Allowed the IT staff to manage the environment remotely
  • Allowed for managed services by the hosting provider if required
  • Located no more than a ½ day drive from the main office
  • Located in a secondary market primarily to reduce risk of a natural disaster
  • Migrate the non-production environments to the secondary data center
  • Create a virtualized test environment that can simulate a production load and accurately predict production performance

Only Involta could meet all RFI requirements

The client invited Involta to participate in the initial evaluation as one of over 75 participating companies in the original request for information (RFI). Involta’s solution and location of company-owned data centers set the company apart from the competition. While competitors were located in large cities or on either coast, Involta was located in the Heartland of the Midwest. The management team at Involta had a clear vision, and a commitment to the customer. The data centers met all of the requirements – location for both primary and secondary and concurrently maintainable. Involta’s commitment to facilities, operational controls and processes and the dedication and expertise of the staff elevated the company’s proposal – it was a clear choice, only Involta was able to meet all of the RFI objectives.

The solution design included two data centers, geographically separated, yet close enough that the staff could drive or fly to either location in a matter of hours. The two data centers were required to be on separate power grids, connected via fiber, expandable to 10 GB should the network requirements demand it.

Migration to Marion Data Center

Involta migrated the client to its Marion Data Center, in Iowa, as the initial secondary site location. The site hosted the disaster recovery solution, which was set up and tested in just over four months. A 1 GB private fiber network was installed from the client’s original primary site to the new secondary site as well as approximately 100 MB of Internet connectivity through two redundant carriers at the Marion facility. Involta built out secure colocation space and installed the racks and equipment. Involta’s expertise and commitment to processes earned the trust and confidence of the client. The client successfully tested the solution on their first attempt remotely, meeting all disaster recovery requirements. The success of Involta’s solution and the execution led the client to begin development of the second phase – migration of the primary site to another Involta data center.

The Outcomes

Reduced RTO to < 8 Hours

The client reduced RTO to less than eight hours exceeding and satisfying the customer demands.

ROI over $850,000

The client met financial objectives of the project by delivering a total return on investment, including the cost of hardware, of over $850,000.

The disaster recovery environment is used as the performance testing (load testing) environment, serving this dual purpose the client has reduced costs and improved application releases to production.

Remote access virtually eliminated travel costs

With the implementation of remote software and hardware access (including the ability to reboot servers), the client has the ability to manage its environment without being onsite at the data center.

The client virtually eliminated the travel costs associated with running a disaster recovery test, previously comprised of a large team travelling to the disaster recovery site, now with the ability to manage the test remotely, with most people working from home or the corporate office.

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