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Backup is broken and it’s best you fix it

25 Jul 2013

Despite the essential nature of the service, backup has never been easy or even a priority for IT administrators.

The problem is aggravated by the way in which technology systems and data stores have grown and spread in recent years, pushing back the ideal of an efficient and cost-effective backup and restore regime.

Simply put, many IT departments just can’t keep up with company backup requirements thanks to ‘accidental architecture’ and the sheer volume of information that needs protection.

For many businesses in New Zealand, backup is essentially broken - but be warned, failure to fix it can have dire consequences.

Fully recover

Just how real and serious a problem this situation is emerges from recent research commissioned by EMC and conducted by independent company Vanson Bourne. The ‘Disaster Recovery Survey 2012: Asia Pacific and Japan’ report shows 77 per cent of IT decision makers are not confident they could fully recover from data loss.

Driving home the precarious position in which many companies find themselves, 57 per cent of respondents had experienced data loss in the past year.

Although most IT managers already instinctively know that inadequate backups have a negative effect on business, the research drives the facts home: some 43 per cent of respondents said data loss affected employee productivity; 29 per cent said it caused loss of revenue; and 29 per cent noted a loss of customer confidence.

The changing nature of most IT departments potentially puts the integrity of the backup regime into a downward spiral. As many elements of the infrastructure are virtualised or transitioned to the cloud and as data volumes continue to grow unabated, it becomes ever-harder for backup and archive teams to keep up.

Not good enough

At the root of the backup challenge is a combination of data and people. With different individuals responsible for different aspects of the company IT infrastructure, a fragmented approach to data protection emerges.

In effect, driven by fear, a sense of duty or a combination of the two, the storage team, the app team and the hypervisor teams implement their own backup, disaster recovery and archive solutions.

While this approach is certainly better than no backup regime at all, there are serious shortcomings with it. Data volumes become siloed and organisations find themselves with an ‘accidental architecture’ for the backups. There is little strategy; it just happens.

Shortcomings include the inability to scale, the possibility that not all data is covered by the backups and cost efficiencies going out the door.

Information that finds itself in an accidental architecture is not very well managed. Delivering the peace of mind that most CIOs should expect from their backups depends on a strategic approach that brings it all together, eliminates gaps and provides assurance.

The answer lies in a protection storage architecture that provides a single, consolidated platform for all data protection. Such a system lives on-premises and in the cloud and is optimised for capacity and long term durability. It can handle backup, archiving and disaster recovery.

Just as the problem of accidental architectures comes from a combination of data and people, so too does the solution of a protection storage architecture depend to an extent on the people responsible for it. The team should think and act like a service provider: deliver fast access to data, enable applications to be easily integrated and protect the entire data pool.

The key question that should drive them is this: “How can I help accelerate the business?”

Cloud conundrum

Transforming IT and business models to take advantage of cloud computing isn’t without its challenges. While the number of physical devices is likely to be reduced, the amount of data continues to grow – and more applications are likely to find themselves running in virtual machines on a reduced number of physical servers.

With more data sitting behind these applications, the traditional approaches to backup start to break down. In effect, a bottleneck is created in the physical infrastructure which is supporting the virtual environments. They just can’t handle the volume, to the extent that the backup can start impacting end user application availability.

That limits the ability to achieve efficient data protection, even as all other aspects of business and IT performance are expected to improve to drive competitiveness.

..and the solution

Moving to purpose-built backup appliances is widely regarded as the answer to sufficiently fast backups.

Furthermore, future applications will become more responsible for protecting the data behind them, rather than having a third party product protecting the data on that application’s behalf. End users will also have enhanced visibility and control over data and protection of business-critical applications.

The problem of the bottleneck is also addressed to an extent by data de-duplication technology which taps into application intelligence to reduce back up times from hours to minutes and even seconds.

Measure & manage

Backup and restore capabilities are just one component of an holistic approach to company data management. With a protection storage architecture, the IT team is equipped to execute this component efficiently and universally, across all information assets.

While addressing the backup challenge, the protection storage architecture facilitates secure access to data for all employees who need it, while equipping the IT team with the tools to manage information and deliver executive reports on their ability to do so.

To finish...

Disjointed data is the enemy of efficient data management. The ‘accidental architecture’ that many organisations have found themselves with is not the way of the future.

Data needs to be consolidated and managed centrally to ensure it is protected and applications can be easily integrated. In turn, organisations need to provide employees with fast access to data and data management services that enable them to get value from the information in its current location.

With the right technology, businesses can accelerate their IT transformation, lower operational costs and increase their application availability. In fact, solutions today can deliver 10 times more scalability and four times faster performance to securely consolidate all backup and archive data.

When operating in a new virtualised environment, it’s imperative that data protection is optimised for the new conditions. If organisations don’t make changes to the way they protect and manage their data it will not only become an IT problem, but also a business problem.

By Shane Moore, Director of Product Marketing for EMC's Backup and Recovery Systems (BRS) Division across Asia Pacific and Japan