Where in the World Is Your Data?

World map
Recently The Internet Archive resurrected several nostalgic computer games, including the 1980s-era “Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?” In the game, players join the ACME Detective Agency to track down a troupe of thieving villains led by the elusive Carmen Sandiego.

The only way players can stop Carmen and her thieves is to use their geography knowledge to gather clues and pinpoint the crooks’ locations. If players get a location wrong, they have to retrace their steps and try again, all the while losing precious time.

In this respect, disaster recovery (DR) has something in common with “Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?” If backups are vaulted in the wrong geographic location, you limit your ability to rebound from an incident within the necessary recovery time objectives (RTOs). 

Why Is Location Important?

The goal of strategically selecting where your data will be vaulted is to minimize organizational risk as much as possible. To achieve this goal, you need to solve for two separate RTOs:

  • Operational issues that are specific to your individual environment (e.g., a server outage)
  • Regional disasters

An operational issue would most likely have a lower RTO and would allow for local data vaulting. A regional disaster would either have an equal or less aggressive RTO, because events affecting several providers in a given area are viewed differently than an event affecting a single entity only. Unfortunately, many organizations focus solely on addressing operational RTOs in the DR planning process, which is catastrophic in a widespread event.

Where Should Data Be Stored?

The important thing is to have your data as close as possible, but far enough away to ensure there’s not a common risk between geographies. During Hurricane Sandy, for example, organizations with production operations in New York and DR in New Jersey went down.

That doesn't mean they should put their production in New York and move DR to Washington State, though. The further apart locations are, the more challenges exist from an availability and recovery perspective — not to mention cost and latency (affecting communications, user experience, etc.).

What About Data Stored in the Cloud?

When working with cloud providers, it’s important to be aware of where their back-end data centers are located — some providers have locations all over the world, whereas others have strategically placed facilities in the U.S. only. (If your business is subject to industry or federal regulations that require data to remain stateside, you’ll want to avoid your data being sent overseas.)

However, one of the benefits of the cloud is that it allows you to achieve a solution that addresses both operational and DR RTOs. Cloud providers have service level agreements that both IT and executive management can understand, as well as industry-specific compliance documentation (depending on the cloud), allowing the business to dictate risk aversion or assumption.

While pinpointing the best geographic locations for your data might not be as fun as tracking a world-class villain, it’s a key part of the DR planning process that can save you time when you need it most.

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