Why is Data Protection Still an Art?

Data protection has been a key data center practice for as long as there have been data centers. It would seem that by now the art of data protection would be a science and that every operating system or environment would have built-in protection. If anything the opposite is true. There are more backup vendors on the market today than at any other time in the history of the data center. That said, the foundational components are available to make data protection a science instead of an art.

Step 1 – Appliances

The first step in demystifying backup and making it more of a science than an art is to simplify the purchasing and implementation process. Most backup solutions have a dizzying array of hardware and software options. While options and flexibility are always good, there can be too much of a good thing and that is the case with data protection. As a result, there is a strong trend toward backup appliances, which is a server, pre-configured and pre-loaded with software so that all the IT professional has to do is power it up and give the appliance an IP address. Some organizations are fairly new to this concept, and are really just bundling the software and hardware for a customer, others have been providing appliances for years and now know how to very specifically fine tune their software and its implementation on the appliances they provide.

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Step 2 – Consolidation

The second step in the demystification of backup is to consolidate the number of data protection processes in the data center. Many data centers now protect physical servers, virtualized servers, and cloud applications with different independent products. The goal should be to reduce the number of backup hardware and software components in the data center to as few as possible.

In fact, one of the key advantages to the appliance approach is it consolidate the backup server, storage and software into a single unit. But this consolidation only holds true if the software can protect the majority of the operating systems and hypervisors in the environment. Many of the new solutions focus on just one area of protection or don’t support different backup storage mediums like tape. The result is the data center ends up with a collection of data protection appliances so it can fulfill its protection promises.

More than likely there will occasionally be a need to adopt another data protection application to protect a new environment, but that should be the exception not the rule. Ideally the data protection process expands for a moment in time to protect that new environment with a different application, but then, as soon as the data center’s core protection application supports that new environment, the process contracts back down to a single vendor.

For example, enterprises that are rolling out NoSQL environments may find existing backup solutions don’t support them or not to the level they’d like. In this situation the organization may add another application temporarily until the core application provides that level of protection.

Step 3 – The Cloud

Demystifying data protection also means better supporting public and/or private cloud storage. At this point, many vendors have added some form of cloud storage support. But most merely use the cloud as another tier of storage, a place to replicate backup data to. There is so much more to cloud support than to just use it as a giant digital landfill.

Using cloud storage as a place to store a copy of backup data is a good first step. To it, vendors should add the ability to recover data in the cloud and leverage cloud compute to instantiate virtual instances of applications. The ability to leverage cloud compute and run an instance of an application in the cloud means IT can now use that cloud for disaster recovery.

Another key element of cloud is to also protect applications that are cloud-only. Many organizations today are using a cloud-based software as a service (SaaS) like Office 365 or Salesforce.com. While these providers backup their data, it is to protect themselves, not necessarily to protect their customers. They all advise customers backup their data. Having a software application that includes backup of cloud-hosted applications is a must.

StorageSwiss Take

The mystification of data protection has led to the introduction of dozens of new vendors into the market over the last few years. Each of these new companies promise to simplify backup and to leverage the cloud. Missing from the conversation is consolidation since as a new company they don’t have the breadth of coverage traditional data protection companies do. But most legacy backup solutions are lacking when it comes to moving to an appliance- based model and fully exploiting the cloud.

As a result, IT is left with a conundrum; does it embrace the new vendors and wait for them to catch up on the coverage side or do they select a more traditional vendor and wait for them to fully embrace the cloud?

Or is there a third option, are there vendors that have robust platform coverage in an appliance package that also embrace the cloud?

In our upcoming webinar “Veteran vs Rookie – Who Can Meet The Enterprise Backup Challenge?” we will compare and contrast the different approaches to the market and provide five key areas organizations should consider as the evaluate new backup vendors.

Eight years ago George Crump, founded Storage Switzerland with one simple goal. To educate IT professionals about all aspects of data center storage. He is the primary contributor to Storage Switzerland and is and a heavily sought after public speaker. With 25 years of experience designing storage solutions for data centers across the US, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS and SAN, Virtualization, Cloud and Enterprise Flash. Prior to founding Storage Switzerland he was CTO at one the nation's largest storage integrators where he was in charge of technology testing, integration and product selection.

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