Why Master-Slave Can’t Save Software Driven Companies from Disaster


There was a time when the name “Sandy” probably brought to mind Olivia Newton John’s character in Grease.  Before that, it might have made you think of Sandy Duncan, the spritely actress who was famous for playing Peter Pan on stage. It’s a name that conjures images of a beach vacation somewhere.

So it’s clear the World Meteorological Organization could have applied a more fitting name to the cataclysmic superstorm that hit America’s East Coast this past week.

And that’s just how it is with disasters. The volume and strength of the alarm rarely matches the magnitude of the strike. The warning goes unheeded or it’s underestimated.  Most often, there is no alarm. The threat creeps in unannounced and takes down the unprepared and unprotected.

The news this past week offers a grim reminder of just how vulnerable even a modern nation can be: images of blacked out cities, flooded neighborhoods and burning buildings are paired with stories of numerous fatalities and countless, displaced citizens.

Of course, businesses pay a price during disasters too. In fact, this one should raise concerns among software driven companies who are vulnerable to downtime, disruption and data loss should they get hit. According to Discovery News, the storm caused “power cuts and heavy flooding in a zone where some 150 data centers are situated, in the states of Virginia, New Jersey and New York.”

Consider the potential consequences of such an event: of companies experiencing catastrophic data loss, 43 percent never reopen, and 51 percent go out of business within two years, according to research from the University of Texas.

Executive leaders need to be confident about their data backups and disaster recovery plans. Their companies could be devastated by prolonged disruptions or major data loss. Software-driven companies take this risk when they fail to ensure access to their source code.

And it’s not just the risk of storms, floods or fires that should get your attention. There are numerous  reasons to make business continuity and disaster recovery a key priority:

  • IT systems fail. Servers and storage systems may be more durable and dependable than they were in the past, but they are not foolproof.  Servers go down all the time. Hard disks crash. Power outages occur. Internet connections are lost.
  • Human error leads to system failures.  Humans make mistakes that lead to data loss or system crashes. While processes may be in place to discourage missteps, it’s inevitable that some personnel will accidentally veer from the process.
  • Hackers and attackers will undermine you. Given the growing number of online security breaches that have made the news and undermined corporate reputations, it’s a fact that threats can also come from individuals who willfully harm your business. Companies such as Sony, TJ Maxx and Citigroup have suffered some of the most visible, and extensive security breaches when customer data assets were compromised.

These are just a few of the many factors that lead to downtime and disruption. And if you haven’t proactively planned for them, your business may be unable to operate. It’s much like having an insurance policy on your house in case of fire.

However, research suggests that economic uncertainty has pushed BC/DR efforts down the priority list for many firms. “Even in the best of economic times, it’s difficult to build the business case for an initiative like BC/DR that’s primarily about cost avoidance rather than return on investment. In tough economic times, it’s almost impossible,” according to Forrester Research.

Of course, cost avoidance should be enough incentive when the potential cost of failure is colossal. Just consider the cost of extended downtime if your business simply can’t operate. That’s what happened to major websites like Netflix, Pinterest and Instragram when Amazon’s Elastic Computer Cloud in North Virginia went down due to severe thunderstorms. As a result, Netflix was sending out apology emails in the midst of Friday night movie night.

The point is that the productivity and performance of software-driven companies revolve around being able to constantly produce code and some of them have software development operations that follow the sun. And it’s not just conventional technology companies that are vulnerable to disruption. Chase Bank, for example, has more than a 100,000 software engineers generating code. It, and many other companies, are software-driven enterprises, too.

When software-driven firms don’t prepare for disruptions and disastrous events, they put their businesses in jeopardy.  They have much to lose in terms of costs and missed production windows if their developers are sitting idle for long stretches of time. So the question for software-driven companies to consider is this: How secure and available is your source code in the case of a disrupting event?

At WANdisco, we’ve seen how effectively companies can respond in a moment of crisis.

One client, EMS Satcom, experienced record flooding near its software development site in the UK. And yet, the company experienced zero downtime or data loss despite the fact that widespread flooding killed a number of people, affected thousands of other businesses, and destroyed tens of thousands of homes.

This was possible because EMS Satcom had a network architecture that does not rely on any centralized servers, so there was no single point of failure. If a server went down because of flooding, developers could automatically fail over to other servers on the network, which may even be on another continent.

Another client, O2Micro, a maker of power management and security systems for multiple markets, has a globally distributed software department. O2 Micro has been able to enhance network performance, accelerate development cycles and protect itself from disastrous events while enhancing network performance by investing in software configuration management (SCM) solutions.

When an earthquake hit China a few years back, the built-in hot backup and automated recovery features in O2 Micro’s SCM solution eliminated extended downtime and data loss after network and server failures, even after the earthquake cut communication between the US and China. In fact, O2Micro now operates 24-by-7 because its backup and recovery capabilities avoid over two hours of downtime each day for maintenance — demonstrating that protective measures also can boost daily performance.

For both EMS Satcom and O2Micro, WANdisco’s patented active-active replication technology was critical in ensuring disruptions were avoided and key source code assets remained accessible.  WANdisco’s Distributed Coordination Engine (DConE) technology, embedded in our Enterprise Multisite product, allows multiple instances of the same application or source code to operate on independent hardware without sharing any resources. All of the application servers are kept in synchronization by DConE regardless of whether the servers are on the same LAN or globally separated and accessible only over a WAN. This is achieved by replicating changes made against one server to the others in real-time.

So what are the takeaways?

  • First, to ensure your software development operations are secure, you need to know that your data and source code are backed up somewhere other than in the same metro region. As the East Coast superstorm demonstrated, it’s not enough to merely have a backup of your data assets. The backup has to be out of harm’s way.
  • Second, disaster recovery isn’t just about backing up your assets. It’s also about how much time it takes you to recover. Every minute that goes by with operations at a halt, your company is burning money. You can quantify this loss by multiplying your number of developers by their compensation and the time it takes to get them back online with accessible source code — though other costs may be exacted regarding your reputation and/or time to market.
  • Finally, you need a proactive disaster recovery and business continuity strategy. You don’t want to be uncertain about where you stand when disaster hits one of the regions in which your developers operate. In fact, you’ll want to consider how to rigorously manage your software development liabilities in association with your larger DR/BC plans.

As more companies become software-driven, more companies become vulnerable to the issues raised by this past week’s devastating storm — issues concerning disaster recovery in general and source code protection and availability in particular. Heed the storm’s warning and take action. Don’t let your business float away in an unanticipated flood of disastrous news.

Learn how WANdisco’s patented replication technology can keep your software development teams up and running in the face of the worst disasters.

Or reach out to our knowledgeable solutions team at sales@wandisco.com.

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About David Richards

David is CEO, President and co-founder of WANdisco and has quickly established WANdisco as one of the world’s most promising technology companies. Since co-founding the company in Silicon Valley in 2005, David has led WANdisco on a course for rapid international expansion, opening offices in the UK, Japan and China. David spearheaded the acquisition of Altostor, which accelerated the development of WANdisco’s first products for the Big Data market. The majority of WANdisco’s core technology is now produced out of the company’s flourishing software development base in David’s hometown of Sheffield, England and in Belfast, Northern Ireland. David has become recognised as a champion of British technology and entrepreneurship. In 2012, he led WANdisco to a hugely successful listing on London Stock Exchange (WAND:LSE), raising over £24m to drive business growth. With over 15 years' executive experience in the software industry, David sits on a number of advisory and executive boards of Silicon Valley start-up ventures. A passionate advocate of entrepreneurship, he has established many successful start-up companies in Enterprise Software and is recognised as an industry leader in Enterprise Application Integration and its standards. David is a frequent commentator on a range of business and technology issues, appearing regularly on Bloomberg and CNBC. Profiles of David have appeared in a range of leading publications including the Financial Times, The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail. Specialties:IPO's, Startups, Entrepreneurship, CEO, Visionary, Investor, ceo, board member, advisor, venture capital, offshore development, financing, M&A

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