The Israeli lifesaver that kept Sandy-ravaged data from drowning

While superstorm destroyed homes and businesses, uprooting the lives of tens of thousands, an Israeli company ensured that data vital to millions remained up and running

The streets of NYC after Hurricane Sandy (photo credit: CC-BY David Berkowitz/Flickr)
The streets of NYC after Hurricane Sandy (photo credit: CC-BY David Berkowitz/Flickr)

Hurricane Sandy created havoc along the East Coast, uprooting whole communities with super-strong winds and creating damage that many communities may not recover from for months. But the impact of Sandy had the potential to create far more extensive damage; had the data centers of the Northeast gone offline or sustained major damage, it would have had a devastating effect on businesses across the US, and maybe the world.

The computers that business and government rely on for their processing and the storage of their documents were all at severe risk; it was an Israeli disaster recovery company, Zerto, which played a key role in saving some of these important computer systems.

“The Cloud” — that ephemeral computer out in the ether that stores and processes data — is actually more than just a concept; it’s a network of physical computers that are located in cities and towns around the world. In the US, many of the key cloud systems are located in places such as Virginia, New Jersey, Lower Manhattan, Boston — in other words, the same places upon which Sandy unleashed her fury.

“There are numerous cloud systems that are critical to the functioning of government, insurance companies, banks, and many other financial institutions,” said Ziv Kedem, CEO of Zerto. “Without those systems, those institutions would just shut down. Our company provides replication services that enable companies to instantly move between servers, getting their data and conducting operations on another system when their main system is unavailable or compromised.”

System replication is far more than just a backup, explained Kedem. “Copying data from one drive to another just preserves the data you copied, but ensuring you have the computing resources to use that data is something else entirely. Systems today are very complicated, with many programs and resources running at the same time. It’s not enough just to save the data: You have to save the context that data is going to be used in.”

An information-technology trend in recent years has been the mass adoption of virtual platforms, where companies run their systems, software and database on a remote, “agnostic” volume that provides clients with a work environment that does not require them to take into account hardware or software concerns. The only thing the client needs to be concerned about is its data, not the operating system or the hardware.

But duplicating that environment for a fail-safe backup that can take over instantly if the main system goes down isn’t so easy, continued Kedem. Nearly all the replication and backup models on the market are hardware-dependent, or at least hardware-aware. If data has gotten “used” to working in a certain system and has become dependent on the features of an operating system or hardware — used to enhance operations or calculations, for example — it may be difficult to maintain that environment in the replicated system, which puts user data at risk.

Solving that problem, claimed Kedem, is Zerto’s mission. And that was how the company was able to save numerous data centers and corporations from the full wrath of Sandy. “We are the only system on the market that allows for full replication on virtual servers, regardless of the original hardware or operating system used by the client.” Zerto, Kedem stated, is the only solution that enables instant, one-click switching from a server that has gone down to a replacement one, with all data remaining up to date; it does not require a duplicate server with the same environment.

As a result, companies that had Zerto’s replication installed weathered the storm without missing a beat. “As the storm approached, several of our clients in Virginia, New York and Boston consulted with us regarding the optimum time to switch servers. In several cases — especially in Virginia, where the storm struck early on — administrators switched to one of our cloud farms in Chicago. The clients in Boston were ready to do so as well, but decided against it after they realized that their city would not suffer the brunt of the hurricane.”

In all cases, said Kedem, systems were “down” for just a few seconds while the replication server took over — a negligible performance gap that did not in any way interfere with clients’ business. The replication system isn’t just useful when a hurricane strikes, added Kedem. “When a company wants to try out new software, or when it is transferring to a new e-mail server, for example, it will use our replication system to ensure that things continue to operate smoothly, just in case the system has a problem.”

But it’s Zerto’s performance in emergencies — such as Sandy — that makes Kedem perk up. “We’re very proud that we were able to ensure that our clients — hospitals, hedge funds, universities, and many others — were able to stay online regardless of the weather,” claimed Kedem. “It’s a good feeling to know we could help.”

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