Backup and Recovery – Still Imperfect After All These Years

Some things in life, for example taxes, taxis and the music of younger generations, seem to have been around forever yet we are still not comfortable with them. The same can be said of some areas of IT, with “Backup and Recovery” springing readily to mind. Over the course of the last few weeks I have taken part at a number of round tables hosted by DCG Group and one theme that has been common to all attendees has been a recognition that there are still major challenges getting backup and recovery processes right.

Backup and recovery processes have been undertaken since the beginning of IT. In fact it can be argued that the very antiquity of the operation works against the process itself. In certain organisations backup processes have been working so long that they have almost, but not quite, become a tradition. “We do backups because we have always carried out backups” is the subtext. In fact it is probably fairer to say that “We have problems with backups but, then again, we always have” is the prevailing attitude.

It goes without saying, or does it, that the recognition of having issues with backup processes makes the recovery of data / systems very difficult, if not impossible. It is worthwhile noting, some legal requirements prevalent in a few industry verticals aside, that at heart the only valid reason for carrying out backup and allied data protection operations at all is to put oneself in the comforting position of being able to recover information whenever so required.

Now it has to be admitted that it can very difficult to ensure that backup and recovery systems deliver the degree of protection desired by the organisation. Not least amongst the issues is that data volumes are growing so rapidly whilst business operations require access to information for ever increasing time windows that simply taking backups quickly enough can be a non-trivial challenge. There are now several techniques available to address this challenge from using disk to disk (and then perhaps to tape) backups or the use of “snapshots” / point-in-time copies / SaaS / CDP and managed service solutions, never mind just faster tape systems.

However beyond the mere technical details of how to get backups to be taken within the desired backup window or ensuring that data can be recovered with the required recovery time objectives there are other, perhaps less visible obstacles to be overcome. Many of these are wrapped up in the very fact that data is now routinely held in so many locations, by no means all of them sitting inside a data centre. Just tracking down data to be protected, understanding the desired backup and restore characteristics of the information and its global business value is a task that can be extremely difficult to undertake, especially given that it can never be considered completed as things change so rapidly. The advent of “virtualisation” of systems in mainstream IT operations is further exacerbating this situation.

Finally there is the ultimate difficulty, and this is wrapped up in the very fact that backup and recovery has been around so long. It is simply not fashionable or exciting. It is also difficult to be able to test recovery scenarios with sufficient frequency. Indeed many organisations will admit that they test their recovery capabilities very rarely and tend to rely on getting it right when there is a real world need to recover data to hone their operations.

It must also be said that for operations staff tasked with keeping systems working in line with business demands there is never enough, or any, time to learn about new solutions, identify best practices or to work out how things can be made better. And this applies across the entire gamut of business, never mind humble but ever so essential backup and recovery operations. This is likely to open up major opportunities for specialist providers of managed services and new solutions that help address the challenges both in backup and recovery as well as across much of the “routine” IT operational spectrum allowing the IT organisation to focus more sharply on matters deemed to be of more value to the business.

Can backup and recovery operations ever routinely reach 100 percent coverage at an affordable cost? Maybe not, but there is clearly plenty of room to make things better for everyone concerned, i.e. the entire business.

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