What Does Software-Defined Mean For Data Protection?

What is the role of data protection in today’s increasingly virtualized world? Should organizations look towards specialized backup technologies that integrate at the hypervisor or application layer or should they continue utilizing traditional backup solutions to safeguard business data? Or should they use a mix? And what about the cloud? Can existing backup applications or newer virtualized offerings, provide a way for businesses to consolidate backup infrastructure and potentially exploit more efficient cloud resources? The fact is, in today’s ever changing computing landscape, there is no “one-size-fits all” when it comes to data protection in an increasingly software-defined world.

Backup Silo Proliferation

One inescapable fact is that application data owners will look to alternative solutions if their needs are not met. For example, database administrators often resort to making multiple copies of index logs and database tables on primary storage snapshots, as well as to tape. Likewise, virtual administrators may maintain their own backup silos. To compound matters, backup administrators typically backup all of the information in the environment, resulting in multiple, redundant copies of data – all at the expense, and potentially, risk of the business.

As we discussed in a recent article, IT organizations need to consider ways to implement data protection as a service that gives the above application owners choice – in terms of how they protect their data. Doing so helps improve end user adoption of IT backup services and can help drive backup infrastructure consolidation. This is critical for enabling organizations to reduce the physical equipment footprint in the data center.

Ideally, this core backup infrastructure should also support highly secure, segregated, multi-tenant workloads that enable an organization to consolidate data protection silos and lay the foundation for private and hybrid cloud computing. In this manner, the immediate data protection needs of the business can be met in an efficient and sustainable way, while IT starts building the framework for supporting next generation software-defined data center environments.

Backup Persistency

Software-defined technologies like virtualization have significantly enhanced business agility and time-to-market by making data increasingly more mobile. Technologies like server vMotion allow organizations to burst application workloads across the data center or into the cloud. As a result, IT architects need a way to make backup a more pervasive process regardless of where data resides.

To accomplish this, IT architects need to make a fundamental shift in how they approach implementing backup technology. To make backup persistent, the underlying backup solution needs to be application centric, as well as application agnostic. In other words, backup processes need to be capable of intelligently following or tracking data wherever it lives, without placing any encumbrances on application performance or application mobility.

For example, solutions that provide direct integration with vSphere or Hyper-V, can enable the seamless protection of business data despite the highly fluid nature of these virtual machine environments. By integrating at the hypervisor level, backup processes can move along with VMs as they migrate across servers without requiring operator intervention. This is a classic example of a software-defined approach to data protection.

Data Driven Efficiency

This level of integration also enables key backup efficiency technologies, like change block tracking (CBT), data deduplication and compression to be implemented. As the name implies, CBT is a process whereby the hypervisor actively tracks the changes to VM data at a block level. Then when a scheduled backup kicks off, only the new blocks of data are presented to the backup application for data protection. This helps to dramatically reduce the time it takes to complete and transmit backup workloads.

The net effect is more reliable data protection and the reduced consumption of virtualized server, network bandwidth and backup storage resources. This enables organizations to further scale their virtualized application environments, drive additional data center efficiencies and operate more like a utility.

Decentralized Control

As stated earlier, database administrators (DBAs) tend to jealously guard control over the data protection process. So any solution that aims to appease the demands of DBAs while affording the opportunity to consolidate backup infrastructure, should also allow these application owners to use their native backup tools – like Oracle RMAN and SQL dumps. This all should be integrated using the same, common protection storage infrastructure as the virtualized environment and provide the same level of data efficiency features like data deduplication and compression.

Lastly, with more end-users working from branch and home office locations, businesses need a way to reliably protect and manage corporate data on the edge. Ideally, the solution should not require user intervention. Instead it should be a non-disruptive background process that backs up and protects data on a scheduled basis to ensure that data residing on desktops, laptops and edge devices is reliably backed up to the cloud. The service should also employ hardened data encryption to ensure that data cannot be compromised.

Holistic Backup

All of these various backup capabilities – from protecting virtualized infrastructure and business applications, to safeguarding data residing on end user edge devices, require solutions that are customized for each use case. In short, what is needed are software agnostic, enterprise class backup technologies that provide a holistic way to backup business data assets; whether it is on virtualized or physical server infrastructure, within the four walls of the data center or in hybrid cloud environments.


Software-defined technologies like server, network and storage virtualization solutions are providing businesses with unprecedented opportunities for reducing costs through data center infrastructure consolidation. It is also enabling organizations to lay the groundwork for next generation, hybrid cloud data centers that can scale resources on-demand to meet business needs. The challenge, however, is that traditional models for protecting critical business data are not optimized to work in this new software-defined reality. By adopting technologies that provide deep integration across existing applications, backup tools, virtualized cloud infrastructure and remote user devices, IT planners can start preparing their businesses for the needs of next generation, software-defined data center environments. EMC’s suite of protection solutions can help pave the road for this transition.

EMC is a client of Storage Switzerland

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As a 22 year IT veteran, Colm has worked in a variety of capacities ranging from technical support of critical OLTP environments to consultative sales and marketing for system integrators and manufacturers. His focus in the enterprise storage, backup and disaster recovery solutions space extends from mainframe and distributed computing environments across a wide range of industries.

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One comment on “What Does Software-Defined Mean For Data Protection?
  1. […] of data protection must change as well. As Storage Switzerland’s Colm Keegan points out, protection capabilities need to move up the stack to the virtual or even the application/data layers…. To do this, enterprises must adopt a more mixed bag approach to data protection, rather than the […]

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