Russell Reynolds

  • August 1, 2018

    Global Firm Strengthens and Simplifies Business Continuity with Hybrid Cloud

    Project Overview

    Russell Reynolds Associates is a global leadership advisory and executive search firm that uses the Microsoft hybrid cloud to better meet the needs of customers in a fast-changing digital world. Russell Reynolds moved backup to the cloud using Microsoft System Center 2012 R2 Data Protection Manager to safeguard VMware workloads and transfer them to Microsoft Azure Backup. It then created a business continuity/disaster recovery solution in Azure using Azure Site Recovery, which enabled it to cut its secondary datacenter footprint in half. With its hybrid cloud solution, Russell Reynolds better protects its business and reduces costs, enabling it to increase innovation investments. Also, the IT staff is relieved of the boredom of mundane backup work and freed to work on strategic projects.

    Focus on Strategy, Not Operations

    Russell Reynolds Associates helps organizations build talent teams that can steer them through today’s challenges and help them anticipate the digital, economic, environmental, and political trends that are reshaping tomorrow’s business environment. To do this, Russell Reynolds has to stay modern and relevant itself, seeking out technologies that promote efficiency and agility.

    Russell Reynolds is a global leader in assessment, executive search, and succession planning for boards of directors, chief executive officers, and key roles within the C-suite. With more than 400 consultants in 47 offices around the world, it works closely with public, private, and nonprofit organizations across all industries and regions.

    The firm also has datacenters around the world to ensure that its IT systems are physically close to the employees using them. This strategy, however, resulted in infrastructure duplication and high costs. “We’re always looking for technologies that allow us to focus less on operational needs and more on key strategies,” says David W. Pfister, Director of Global Distributed Infrastructure and Client Services at Russell Reynolds Associates. “We want technology that is less expensive to run and helps us differentiate ourselves in the market by getting to answers and candidates faster than our competitors can.”

    To that end, in 2014, Russell Reynolds began using Microsoft Azure. It first used Azure Machine Learning to gain instant, no-investment access to sophisticated machine-learning algorithms that helped it surface job candidates faster from volumes of data.

    Russell Reynolds next deployed Microsoft Office 365 to give its 1,500 global employees cloud-based access to modern communications and collaboration tools.

    The company then began to look at how it could use Azure to reduce datacenter costs and increase availability. Its tape backup solution was expensive and cumbersome, and Russell Reynolds felt that it could create a better backup solution with the cloud.

    Move Backups to the Cloud

    Russell Reynolds decided to implement a Microsoft cloud-integrated backup solution. In its datacenter, Russell Reynolds uses Microsoft System Center 2012 R2 Data Protection Manager to locally back up VMware workloads. Data Protection Manager then transfers backups to Microsoft Azure Backup, where they can be stored for up to 99 years, eliminating the need for tapes.

    The firm used the Azure Backup offline seeding capability to copy its initial 10 terabytes of data to the cloud; after the initial copy, Azure Backup sends only incremental (and compressed) data for daily backups, reducing network bandwidth needs and Azure storage consumption.

    “Even though we used very reputable partners for tape handling, it always made us nervous when our data left our facilities,” Pfister says. “Now we know that our data is either on our premises or in the Azure cloud, which delivers greater peace of mind.”

    Putting backup in Azure also yields savings. “Now we back up to a cheap bunch of disks rather than an expensive storage solution,” says Sean DeLessio, Lead Engineer on the Distributed Infrastructure Team at Russell Reynolds. “We don’t have to worry about managing space on expensive purpose-built backup storage systems. We have no tape costs, management costs, nothing. Backup is dramatically cheaper with Azure.”

    Create a Hybrid-cloud DR Solution

    With the backup success behind it, Russell Reynolds decided to use Azure for disaster recovery (DR), too. “We had a very robust VMware-based disaster recovery solution, and it worked very well,” Pfister says. “But the solution was costly from a licensing and on-premises hardware perspective. It also required specialized IT skill sets. We were already embracing the cloud, so moving disaster recovery to the cloud just made sense. We didn’t want to be in the DR business anymore.”

    The local Microsoft account team, in conjunction with Microsoft partner Attunix, worked closely with Russell Reynolds to create a hybrid-cloud DR solution using Azure Site Recovery. This cloud-based DR orchestration service coordinates the replication and recovery of private clouds—Hyper-V or VMware—across sites. It also provides nondisruptive testing of recovery plans and remote monitoring of cloud health. Organizations can protect applications by replicating them to their own second site, a hoster’s site, or to Azure. Russell Reynolds decided to use Azure as its DR site to eliminate the cost of maintaining a secondary datacenter location.

    “Azure can replicate and back up VMware workloads, which was a big driver for us to move business continuity/disaster recovery to the cloud,” Pfister says. “We never considered other options, because we use a lot of Microsoft software, Microsoft licensing is attractive, and we’re transitioning our VMware environment to a Hyper-V environment.”

    That being said, Russell Reynolds only moves workloads to the cloud when it makes sense. “The beauty of Azure is that we can consume as many cloud resources as we want, when we want,” Pfister says. “With Microsoft, we can run entire workloads or pieces of workloads on-premises or in the cloud; it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. Without that hybrid flexibility, we wouldn’t have jumped into Azure as quickly as we did.”

    Russell Reynolds runs its machine learning databases, Microsoft SharePoint Server, data repositories, and other workloads in Azure. It keeps its primary line-of-business application, human resources software, financial applications, and Citrix environment on-premises.

    While it gradually moves pieces of these tier-1 applications into Azure, Russell Reynolds protects them with Azure Site Recovery; that is, if on-premises infrastructure fails, IT staff run the application in Azure until the primary infrastructure is available again. The firm uses Azure ExpressRoute to migrate workloads into Azure using Azure Site Recovery replication.

    Improve, Simplify, and Save

    Today, with disaster recovery happening in Azure, the company’s recovery point objective (RPO), or period of time during which data could be lost during a DR failover, is down from 24 hours to just 6 hours. The recovery time objective (RTO), or time within which service must be restored, has also shrunk. “By using Azure Site Recovery, we’ve improved our disaster preparedness while reducing DR-related work,” Pfister says.

    The failover process is also much easier. “With our VMware-based DR solution, we had to be very careful about the order in which we brought workloads back up so as not to overload our DR datacenter, which didn’t have the same horsepower as our production environment,” Pfister says. “With Azure, we have ample compute power, so we don’t have to worry about it.”

    DR testing is also vastly simplified in Azure. “From a technical perspective, DR testing is dramatically simplified with Azure Site Recovery,” says DeLessio. “We can do all our DR testing in the cloud, without worrying about disturbing production applications on-premises. We can also be very granular with Azure Site Recovery and test only one application at a time. Previously, we only did quarterly DR tests because it was so much trouble. Today, we do more frequent testing, which gives us more confidence in our business continuity/disaster recovery posture.”

    Yet another win: Russell Reynolds realized huge capital savings by using Azure for DR. “We had a datacenter devoted to DR and dev/test,” Pfister says. “By using Azure as our DR site, we’ve been able to reduce the floor space of that datacenter by half. We also don’t have to expand our DR environment as we expand our production environment.”

    Redirect, Rejuvenate Staff

    By implementing backup and business continuity/disaster recovery in the cloud, Russell Reynolds has been able to reallocate one full-time staff member to new projects. “We’ve been able to transfer resources from ‘keeping the lights on’ activities to new project work that makes the business more competitive,” Pfister says.

    Relieving staff members of mundane, repetitive chores such as managing tapes also results in a better quality of life for employees. “Like many organizations, we initially experienced some resistance in moving to the cloud,” Pfister says. “If we move Exchange to the cloud, what will our Exchange admins do, the reasoning went. What we’ve found is that the cloud has allowed our staff to focus on activities that are more strategic and architectural and to learn new skills. It’s really rejuvenated them. We’ve seen a renewed focus on and excitement in learning, which we’ve made a priority.”

    Better protection for business-critical workloads, greater peace of mind, lower costs, and an excited staff all add up to a pretty good ROI. “Our market is always moving faster, and the cloud allows us to be more nimble and aggressive,” Pfister says. “We can focus more on where we want to go and less on how to get there. We’re no longer worrying about backup, DR, and other operational tasks.”

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