Modern solutions to an ever-growing challenge

What could be new about backup and recovery? After all, everyone has been doing it in some form or another ever since computing began. But then again, even though this is a process that every organisation has to do, few think they do it well. Even fewer are in a position to know they are capable of recovering data when they need to, quickly enough to meet the requirements of the business processes they support.

This state of affairs raises the question: can new solutions make life better for data protection, or should everyone focus on getting their data support processes functioning more efficiently? If new technological solutions are to play a part, what solutions are out there and where do they fit into the grand scheme?

In the vast majority of enterprises, until very recently data protection has usually equated to taking backups of data and storing them on tape. Sounds simple, but the devil is in the detail. As data volumes have grown rapidly, many organisations find that they no longer have the time to stop all applications and take a copy of core data to tape. The so-called “backup window” has all but evaporated. Modern backup software can alleviate this by not requiring all applications be closed before the backup is taken, but the task of ensuring that data backups can be recovered to a consistent, and accurate, state is a non-trivial matter for many applications.

The capital cost of disks has fallen per terabyte of capacity, so many organisations have started backing up directly to disk as a first stage because this is often far quicker than backing up to tape. Even where disk-to-disk backup takes place, the majority of organisations often take a copy of the saved data from the second disk to tape without having to worry about the speed, because the user can access the original data platforms as soon as the first copy is taken. Such tapes are easy to transport offsite, a major consideration for small firms that may not have access to another office location to hold a second copy of data remote from the primary site.

Increasing costs

Given that data volumes being held by organisations are growing rapidly, as a consequence of legislative and regulatory factors as well as applications and users making greater use of video, voice and images, holding all data on frontline storage platforms is becoming extremely expensive. At the same time, the awareness of the cost of storing data for progressively longer periods makes it likely that interest in sophisticated data protection solutions and management solutions will grow.

One technology likely to attract investment is data deduplication, which ensures only a single copy of data is maintained on disk rather than the usual two, three or 99 copies of files so often generated and saved by teams working on projects. Equally, the use of disk imaging may help with protecting file-based data held on PCs and laptops, perhaps in combination with continuous data protection solutions to ensure that important changes to data are not lost if a PC fails between conventional backups.

Organisations may also start looking at deploying archiving solutions in tandem with their primary storage to hold data that is no longer continuously, or even frequently, accessed by users. Archiving solutions can be very effective for holding static data that does not change rapidly but which must be available for regulatory requirements or to meet important, but rarely generated, instances of user access need. Until recently, most archiving solutions were deployed in areas of business where a specific driver, such as legislation, required its use. The time may have come for archiving to be deployed more generically, but the vendors have some work to do to allow organisations to deploy in this manner without greatly increasing the workload on IT staff.

With new technologies available and long-standing challenges still unresolved, it is a good time for organisations to look at how their data protection systems function as a whole, particularly around backup and restore. In most companies, data protection operates the way it does because there has been a lack of focus on the challenges and changing requirements. With data privacy a factor growing in public attention and with organisations beginning to truly recognise the value of their data, the “keep on going as we are” approach is no longer tenable.

Such challenges are also likely to add another layer of complexity to data protection processes and solutions when disposal of information at the end of its useful life – or when demanded by regulations – are taken into consideration.

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Tony is an IT operations guru. As an ex-IT manager with an insatiable thirst for knowledge, his extensive vendor briefing agenda makes him one of the most well informed analysts in the industry, particularly on the diversity of solutions and approaches available to tackle key operational requirements. If you are a vendor talking about a new offering, be very careful about describing it to Tony as ‘unique’, because if it isn’t, he’ll probably know.