Twenty years ago backup applications had absolutely no knowledge of the data they were backing up. Those responsible for backing up applications such as Oracle, Informix, or Sybase were told to either shut down those applications prior to running a backup, or they were told to run a database dump to a file system which would then be backed up by the backup application. Eventually, backup applications began to be more aware of such applications and began to develop ways to manage those backups from within the backup application itself.
But one aspect of data awareness still escapes most backup providers, and that is the content of the files or databases they are backing up – the actual information. For example, most backup applications are able to restore a Microsoft Word document based on its directory and its name. Ask those same backup applications to restore all files with the word software in them, and they will draw a blank. They know the names of the files and they know the locations of the files but they know very little about the contents of the files.
The same is true of database data. You can restore your Exchange server to yesterday. You might be able to restore a given user’s account to yesterday. You might even be able to search that user’s account for all emails with the word software in them and restore those. But ask your backup software to restore all emails from all accounts that have the word software in them, or ask it to restore all emails from a given user over a span of time — rather than a single time frame. You will get the same response – a blank stare.
Your backup software vendor may say that this functionality is typically that found in an archive product – and they would be right. But in today’s cloud friendly world, knowing the exact location of a file or the source or destination of a given email is increasingly hard. This means backup software is being requested to perform functions archive software would typically provide. In order to be able to satisfy these requests, the backup application must be more aware of the data it is backing up.
The proliferation of data across multiple platforms – including cloud platforms – will increase the chances that a given file or piece of data will become lost. A data-aware storage platform could be very helpful here, but so could a data aware backup platform. Being able to restore files based on their content might really be helpful to a company who can’t seem to find their content.
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