Google Claims Disaster Recovery Edge

The search giant opens up with more details as to just how its cloud-based Google Apps suite recovers from disaster. Can you say "zero loss of data"?

Google is revealing more information about how the company secures information for users of its Google Apps suite, specifically its ability to handle outages -- with claims of uptime and failover performance that could make any enterprise IT manager jealous.

"Will you be ready when disaster strikes?" Rajen Sheth, Google's (NASDAQ: GOOG) senior product manager for Google Apps, wrote in a blog post on Thursday. "It's an uncomfortable question for many IT administrators, because answering it with confidence usually requires boatloads of money, immense complexity, and crossed fingers."

Enterprises typically spend those "boatloads of money" on things like backup servers, remote disaster recovery centers and other backup services and technologies designed to minimize the loss of files and data in a disaster.

Sheth noted that disaster recovery solutions are usually measured in two ways: RPO (Recovery Point Objective) and RTO (Recovery Time Objective). RPO is how much data a company is willing to lose when things go wrong, while RTO is a measure of how long you're willing to go without service.

"For a large enterprise running SANs [storage-area networks], the RTO and RPO targets are an hour or less: the more you pay, the lower the numbers," Sheth said.

"That can mean a large company spending the big bucks is willing to lose all the e-mail sent to them for up to an hour after the system goes down, and go without access to e-mail for an hour as well. Enterprises without SANs may be literally trucking tapes back and forth between datacenters, so as you can imagine, their RPOs and RTOs can stretch into days. As for small businesses, often they just have to start over."

By contrast, Sheth said Google's design RPO design target is zero and its RTO is "instant failover." The company accomplishes this by live or synchronous replication using multiple datacenters. For example, "every action you take in Gmail is simultaneously replicated in two datacenters at once, so that if one datacenter fails, we nearly instantly transfer your data over to the other one that's also been reflecting your actions," he said.

This live replication has been available for years for Gmail, and Google has expanded it to other programs in the Google Apps suite (Calendar, Docs, and Sites) over the past year, a Google spokesperson told

But Google's cloud-based system has suffered a few, mostly limited outages over the past year that cut some user's access to Gmail and Google Apps despite the synchronous replication.

And Sheth was careful to note that Google can't guarantee it will never lose anyone's data related to Google Apps. "Our goal is not to lose any data when it's transferred from one datacenter to another, and to transfer your data so quickly that you don't even know a data center experiences an interruption."

Cloud computing advantage

Of course, much of Sheth's discussion served as a pitch for Google's business offerings, which the company has been pushing hard as a competitor to productivity suites like Microsoft Office and collaborative tools like SharePoint .

IT analyst Charles King said what Google offers should appeal to companies who can't afford disaster recovery services or haven't already implemented a comprehensive solution.

"Any company considering Google Apps or other cloud solutions should measure whether the level of security and functionality matches what they need. But I've heard of so many companies that have no disaster recovery solution in place, or something that's very lightweight, so why not consider working with a company like Google that goes all the way?" King, president and principal analyst of Pund-IT, told

"What Google is able to offer is a great testimony to the commoditization of storage media -- pennies per gigabyte these days," he added. "The economics of backup and recovery have really come down."

But making the pitch to move from installed software to the cloud isn't always the easiest sell, with companies still reluctant to move critical data off their own infrastructure. Not surprisingly, cloud computing was a big focus at this week's RSA security conference, where many of the vendors present exhibited security solutions designed to address concerns about the cloud.

"If the benefits of cloud computing are so obvious, why isn't everyone using it?" VeriSign CTO Ken Silva said during a speech at the show. "The answer is pretty simple: They don't trust it. They really only trust themselves. They will spend a lot more money on running their own datacenters to be sure."

A fix to this story corrects the time period that live replication has been offered in Gmail and Google Apps.

David Needle is the West Coast bureau chief at, the news service of, the network for technology professionals.

Tags: cloud computing, Google Apps, SAN services, SAN, disaster recovery

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