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OpenStack private cloud DR benefits clearer than its TCO

Better DR is a boon to OpenStack shops, but its return on investment can be difficult to communicate to the business side.

Disaster recovery is like insurance -- it might not seem like a good investment until something goes wrong.

IT pros see the need for disaster recovery (DR), and many use OpenStack private cloud for that reason. But DR's fuzzy return on investment (ROI) makes it a tough sell to the business side of the company.

The Swift storage application programming interface, or API, in particular has been key to creating better environments for DR, according to panelists during a session at the OpenStack Summit last week in Atlanta.

"We're deploying Swift in two national data centers … so, not only do we have local [high availability], we have DR for the whole data center," said Matt Haines, vice president of cloud engineering and operations at Time Warner Cable. "We can then offer that to our application developers in a really consistent way."

An aging infrastructure and outdated DR plan, as well as a move to 24/7 operations, prompted Budd Van Lines, a moving and storage company based in Somerset, New Jersey, to set up a Swift-based object storage environment.

Anybody looking at deploying OpenStack also has to focus on the hidden costs.

Matt Haines, cloud VP, Time Warner Cable

The company explored Swift for DR following Superstorm Sandy in 2012. At the time, the company used tapes to back up its workloads and found recovery cumbersome.

"Tapes fail, drives fail," said Douglas Soltesz, CIO at Budd Van Lines. "We wanted to do the same thing for less cost and faster delivery speed with fewer points of failure -- that's what we've recently found with Swift."

The great TCO/ROI debate

Calculating the total cost of ownership (TCO) of OpenStack private cloud and the ROI of better DR can be very difficult, the panelists said.

"Not everything has a good ROI," Soltesz said. "Tapes are still one of the cheapest mediums out there, and you'd be hard pressed to beat the bandwidth of a truckload of tapes. It's hard. You have to start looking at things that aren't dollars and cents."

Open source software is "free like a puppy, not free like beer," in that it comes with a lifetime of costs and other obligations, according to Andy Salo, vice president of product line management at RGB Networks, an online video service provider located in Austin, Texas, which uses OpenStack internally and packages it with hardware appliances it sells to customers.

"Anybody looking at deploying OpenStack also has to focus on the hidden costs," Time Warner's Haines said. "You're going to have to have support, and you're also going to have expenses in building some internal expertise … it's a different level of effort than it would be to run, say, a VMware product."

An investment in staff can be difficult as well, since another hurdle facing OpenStack private cloud owners is a relative dearth of qualified administrators to operate the cloud, the panelists said.

Beth Pariseau is senior news writer for SearchAWS. Write to her at or follow @PariseauTT on Twitter.

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Do you use the cloud for DR?