On April 3, 2012, the Wikibon community was joined by Mike Adams, a storage specialist at Lighthouse Computer Services, who highlighted some of the key selection criteria he used in designing data protection for the company's cloud storage offering. From this discussion came a number of points of consideration for CIOs as they make their way through the backup and recovery decision process.
The data center has undergone massive transformation over the past decade. These stalwarts at the heart of the organization have morphed from racks upon racks of single workload servers with local storage to incredibly complex ecosystems consisting of highly virtualized workloads, shared storage, and critical interconnects. More recently, the rise of the cloud has created more opportunity to extend these business enabling data centers without regard for geographic location.
It’s been a truly revolutionary change in computing.
At the same time, one thing hasn’t changed: The need to back up the business data for which IT plays a stewardship role. Another item that hasn’t changed in many organizations: The use of tape as the primary backup mechanism.
With all the talk about eliminating the use of tape, one would think that every organization has finally eschewed the use of this aging backup and recovery technology. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Tape remains a common technology, particularly when it comes to long-term archive. Tape has proven to a truly resilient technology, but the cloud is beginning to present new opportunities that might finally drive a nail into tape’s coffin.
Don’t go it alone
Although CIOs should not individually make a final decision regarding backup, as the role with primary responsibility for this critical business service, CIOs need to gain an understanding for the full spectrum of options that are available in today’s market. With a broad and deep understanding of the options and of the needs and requirements of the business, the CIO needs to develop a recommendation that considers the wide variety of options.
The CIO should then create a recommended plan of action and work with the executive team — including the CEO — to make certain that all stakeholders in the business understand and agree on the strategy. The executive team has to own the decision.
Backup is not about backup
First, never forget that backup isn’t about backup at all. It’s about recovery — from an accidentally deleted file, a database failure, a complete hardware failure, or a site disaster. Recovery means different things to different people. That list provides a spectrum of recovery.
These days, the line between backup and recovery and full-on disaster recovery has blurred to the point that disaster recovery is simply a continuation of the recovery scale. As you move from the “light” end of the recovery spectrum to the heavy, the cost to implement recovery mechanisms also increases.
Don’t think you have to maintain the status quo
Understanding that backup and recovery are a spectrum, consider the range of options that you have at your disposal, including new opportunities presented by cloud providers. Here are some of the options you might consider:
- Sticking with tape. If that meets your business needs, this is a perfectly good, and inexpensive, strategy. Don’t let vendors convince you that tape is dead. The goal is to match your backup-and-recovery mechanism to business needs, not to implement some expensive new technology just because it's there.
- Moving to local disk. Disk-based backups are a pretty hot item and for good reasons on both the backup and recovery sides of the equation. Simply put, it’s fast. Whereas tapes can be notoriously slow, disks are orders of magnitude speedier and can shrink backup windows to a fraction of the existing service. One downside is that disk is ill-suited for long-term archival needs. This is why disk solutions are often coupled with other options, such as tape or cloud providers.
- Moving to the cloud. More and more companies are considering the cloud as a viable destination for protected data. DR requires geographic disparity between the data center and the data back-up. As bandwidth speeds increase, the cloud becomes more viable. However, Downloading terabytes of backed up data from a cloud provider can still take several days, while shipping the last tape backup from the archive location to the data center and restoring can often be done in a day or less. Oftentimes, cloud-based backup providers will load backed-up data to portable media and ship it to a customer that has experience a disaster and needs to recover. So when considering cloud backup, be sure you understand the procedure and schedule for recovery of a full database copy.
Action Item: The new technologies of the last decade are creating new backup-and-recovery options. Today, a server can be recovered in seconds using the snapshot capabilities included in every hypervisor on the market. Storage replication technology can be used to provide multiple instances of source data without administrators intervening constantly. These product-focused data protection features can be mixed and matched with a number of data protection and recovery options so that an organization can get a data protection mechanism customized to the unique needs of the business.