Disaster Recovery In The Cloud For A Large North West Housing Association

Over 40 mission critical workloads protected using Azure Site Recovery and over 4 terabytes of protected file storage using Azure File Sync Services, fully automated failover recovery and startup scripts to protect services such as Orchard Housing, Accuserv, Biztalk, Windows infrastructure and more.

The team as A4S Cloud Solutions has delivered a project to protect a large north west housing associations IT infrastructure and business applications within Microsoft Azure Site Recovery so they can survive a complete data centre loss.

The client maintains an estate of over 28,000 properties across the north west/north east of the country and have over 1000 internal users; ensuring a disaster such as a data centre loss did not impact customers and staff is critically important.

The client is an ambitious and innovative housing provider whose properties include social and affordable rent, through to retirement living developments, they also provide innovative private rental offers.

What is Azure Site Recovery?

Microsoft Azure Site Recovery is a cloud based disaster recovery solution that can be to achieve DR in three different scenarios 1) on-premise to Azure 2) Azure to Azure 3) on-premise to on-premise.

To learn more about our Azure Site Recovery offering then please click here and get in touch!

How Is Azure Site Recovery Being Utilised?

In the event of a data centre loss; the client's housing, repairs and maintenance, asset, finance, and human resource management applications are now recovered within Azure and can be accessed via mobile devices and a newly built custom thin client solution, this means that critical IT systems continue to run in the event of a complete data centre loss and business users can perform vital business processes to ensure their customers continue to receive the highest standards of service.

The team at A4S Cloud Solutions worked with the client on a highly complex set of project activities that included an Azure Site Recovery build, an Azure based application delivery environment, the re-engineering of over 300 interfaces, a new thin client environment and changes to their wide area network to ensure their application workloads continued to function in a DR scenario.

Each workload was individually inspected, the necessary changes planned out and implemented through the combined efforts of of A4S and client resources, once the necessary changes were made; each workload was moved into an Azure testing environment so that changes could be tested and the necessary assurance be obtained.

The clients infrastructure was also upgraded and reconfigured to ensure survivability in the event of a disaster, services such as DHCP were re-engineered to ensure recovery was possible at a different location, domain services were updated to ensure the necessary authentication and name resolution would continue, and file services were protected using a combination of Azure File Synchronisation and DFS-R.

The achieved recovery point objectives across 40 servers were typically between 3 and 10 minutes depending on data churn rate, this performance is achieved through the highly efficient constant replication between the on-premise ASR infrastructure and the Azure based ASR service.

In order to ensure the failover process is as smooth as possible; A4S augmented the ASR Recovery Plans with various powershell scripting to automate actions such as disabling services, public IP address allocation and network security group assignment, also processes such as scaling up key servers and initiating Azure backup routines to protect failed over system are triggered through scripts.

The client currently utilises an on-premise VDI solution access via a thin client environment that needed reconfiguring in the event of a DR to connect to RDS in Azure, as the previous thin client solution could not be quickly or easily reconfigured; A4S delivered a new fully Microsoft infrastructure managed thin client solution using Windows 10 IOT, to find out more about this fully integrated solution please click here.

During delivery; the ASR solution proved its worth as a testing solution, the ability to clone workloads from the protected servers in Azure and to deposit them into an isolated environment for testing became invaluable and meant no additional infrastructure capacity on-premise was required.

In order to complete the project and provide the necessary assurance; an end to end test failover was performed by A4S and YGH teams, all infrastructure operations were proven before application teams proved the business applications and data performed correctly.

ASR allows a test failover to occur without any impact to live services or existing protection levels, this meant any risky changes or downtimes were completely avoided.

A4S are entering into a support agreement with the client and will continue to provide support and expertise towards any DR event, testing or changes.

For more information around our support offerings please click here.

The A4S Service Design and Transition services were delivered using our online collaboration platform for complete transparency and ease of communication, to find out more information about our approach then please click here.

The Major Benefits Of This Solution Include:

  • Complete protection for critical systems in the event of a data centre loss.

  • End to end failover now takes less than 6 hours (this includes the failover, infrastructure, applications and data testing).

  • RPOs for replication are typically between 3 and 10 minutes.

  • The costs for ASR protection are extremely low i.e. £18.63 per month per server plus a small amount of storage cost, the client only incurs further charges during testing or actual failover.

  • Users are presented with a similar desktop experience through the use of Microsoft Remote Desktop Services.

  • The thin client environment is now fully managed, easily reconfigured or updated.

  • The solution is also usable as a testing environment taking point in time clones of on-premise or Azure based server workloads for isolated testing.

Statement By A4S Managing Director Jason Birchall:

A4S are extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to deliver such a mission critical disaster recovery solution for our client using Microsoft Azure services, our technical expertise and experience of housing sector systems made this possible. Our relationship with the client and their IT teams has grown stronger throughout this deployment as there were many shared lessons learned, long nights and difficult challenges.

Our aim was to ensure the clients IT infrastructure was configured to best practice and in a way that it'd continue to function in a completely new cloud environment, failover is meant to be smooth and automated, replication intervals need to be extremely low, and the environment needs to feel familiar for the client's internal users, we feel we have achieved those objectives in a way that was made possible by the continued support and cooperation with our client.

Thanks for reading!

The A4S Team!

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