There has been an exodus towards cloud-based technology in recent years, which have brought advantages to financial services firms. But when something goes wrong, critical applications must be restored at all costs.
We asked Todd Doane, Solutions Architect at SIOS Technology, for his thoughts on ensuring availability of critical applications on the cloud.
Can you give us an oversight of the main considerations affecting financial firms?
More than most, companies in the financial services world know that time is money. If the systems running your critical applications go down – for any reason – that quickly translates into lost revenue, lost opportunities, possibly even serious reputational loss for the firm.
So how can you ensure that your critical applications remain operational and accessible if something unexpected occurs to knock the underlying infrastructure offline? If you have spare hardware and your on-prem data centre is still operational – two big ifs – you could try to restore your applications and data from backups, but that might take hours. Alternatively, you could configure a disaster recovery (DR) infrastructure in the cloud. Within minutes of your on-prem environment going offline, you could be interacting with your critical applications in the cloud – cost-effectively, and with minimal loss of data or revenue.
All the major cloud service providers – including Azure, AWS, and Google Cloud Service (GCS) – can provide you with compute and storage infrastructure optimised to support your key financial applications. What you’ll need then is a way to replicate the data in your on-prem environment to your cloud-based DR environment – and ensure that the two environments remain as closely synchronised as network bandwidth and latency will allow.
What are the replication options if something goes wrong?
If your critical applications rely on SQL Server, you might consider using the Availability Groups (AGs) feature built into SQL Server. An AG can asynchronously replicate all the data in an on-prem SQL database to your cloud-based DR system. SQL Server Standard Edition provides 'Basic' AG support, which limits you to replicating a single SQL database. If you need to replicate more than one SQL database – and AGs only replicate SQL Server databases – you’d need to use the 'Always On' AG functionality found in SQL Server Enterprise Edition. Unfortunately, licensing SQL Server Enterprise Edition just for the Always On AG functionality will significantly increase the cost of your DR solution.
An alternative to AGs involves using a third-party tool to link your on-prem and cloud infrastructures into what is known as a SANless Cluster. Unlike the AG services in SQL Server, SANless Clustering’s replication services are application agnostic: they will replicate anything in storage — an Oracle database, a library of video files, whatever — which ensures that all your critical financial applications and data can be replicated to your DR infrastructure. SANless Clusters can be built in both Windows and Linux environments, and for those financial services firms that need to replicate multiple SQL Server databases the SANless Clustering approach offers a particularly attractive advantage: It will replicate all your SQL databases without you having to migrate from SQL Server Standard Edition to the much more costly SQL Server Enterprise Edition (which the AG approach would require you to do).
Can you talk to us about cloud-based DR as the gateway to high availability?
Once you have a cloud-based DR solution, particularly if you’re using SANless Clustering, you’re ideally positioned to create a true high availability (HA) solution – where your critical applications and data are available 99.99% of the time. By creating a second instance of your DR configuration in a separate cloud availability zone (AZ) in the same region, you can join that second cloud infrastructure to your SANless Cluster to create a three-node cluster. Then, using the synchronous replication features of the SANless Clustering software, you can ensure that anything written to the first cloud infrastructure will also be written to the second cloud infrastructure – and that both cloud infrastructures will always be perfectly in sync.
Then, at the time of your choosing – when, for example, you’ve made sure that all your on-prem transactions have been written to your cloud-based DR infrastructure – you can shut down your on-prem applications and begin relying on your DR infrastructure as your new primary production environment. Synchronous data replication between the first and second cloud infrastructure ensures that that second cloud infrastructure is always ready to take over in seconds if something happens to the first one – with automatic, rather than manual, failover and no loss of data.
At that point, you could begin using your original on-premises infrastructure as your DR infrastructure. You could use the SANless Clustering software to replicate the data stored in the cloud to storage on-prem – asynchronously, though, so at any moment the data on-prem might be a few seconds out of sync with the data that lives in the cloud – and in the unlikely event that both instances of your cloud infrastructure went offline, you would still be able to bring your critical applications back on line using your on-prem DR infrastructure. You might be missing the last few seconds worth of transactions that had been committed in the cloud before the cloud infrastructure went offline, but you’d be back online in minutes and in much better shape than if you’d tried to rebuild from backups.
Please also take a look at our upcoming virtual event, FinTech LIVE London, coming on 8-9 November 2023.
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