If technology vendors don’t agree on what generic industry terms mean, how in the world are customers supposed to compare similar products?
Wait. Maybe that’s the plan.
Consider the terms backup, archive, & continuous, for example. The terms backup and archive are not interchangeable. Archives also are not old backups. Neither is an archive where one stores their backups. So why do so many backup vendors seem to use these terms this way?
Similarly, the word continuous means something. Specifically, continuous backups (officially referred to as continuous data protection or CDP), means a very specific thing – and that very specific thing does not include snapshots. So when a backup vendor says “we offer continuous backups as often as every n minutes,” it makes absolutely no sense to those who know what those terms mean.
In a recent column my colleague Joseph Ortiz explained just how different backups and archives are, and in a future column I will explain just how different continuous backups are from periodic backups (even if the period is very short). But right now the discussion is why vendors keep incorrectly using industry terms that have been well defined for years. (All three of these terms, for example, have official SNIA definitions that were agreed upon over 15 years ago.)
Can anything be done about this? Because it matters. For example, It’s hard enough to get an average IT person to understand the difference between backup and archive. It’s even harder to get them to understand what truly continuous backup is. But just for the moment consider a person who finally has a proper understanding of these terms, then getting a briefing from a vendor that says they have continuous backups every five minutes that you can archive to tape after a week. Imagine how confused that person would be?
The vendor could have said that they have near-continuous backups that you can move to tape after a week and everything would be fine. But no, they say they have continuous backups, and they say you can archive them to tape, or that you can store them in your archive.
This is not just not semantics. The hoards of people who think their old backups are archives have been responsible for billions of dollars of wasted IT expenditures and lost lawsuits that cost companies billions of dollars. This particular confusion must go away! (In contrast, the continuous issue is less important, but it’s still important.)
This problem is not new. Windows has a bit that tells you if a file needs backing up and they called it the archive bit. Twenty five years ago there was a backup product called SM-arch. And the UNIX tar command used to make backups is short for tape archive.
But the modern day requirements of actual archive systems has made it more important. So the question is: is there anything we can do about it? That’s our role at Storage Switzerland to define the terms, educate IT professionals not only on the terms but also how vendors might misuse them. And then, most importantly, how to use the technology to solve IT problems.