Storage Soup

May 31 2007   8:53AM GMT

Straight out of the 80s

Maggie Wright Profile: mwright16

Why is it still acceptable to the majority of us to protect and recover our data like we did in the 1980s? Obviously, backup software has evolved in the last 20 years to perform differentials, incrementals and synthetics, integrate with most major databases, take advantage of array-based snapshots and do SAN-based backups. But, at the end of the day, many data protection products still lag the wide-scale user desire — may I even suggest requirement — for near-instant recoveries.

It strikes me as ironic that low-tech industries like fast-food can serve up a hamburger in 30 seconds or less while those of us who work in the technology industry can’t recover data for many of our company’s applications in the same amount of time or less. The guys running the hamburger joint at some point figured out that they made more money and were more productive making hamburgers every 30 seconds than they did every 90 seconds. We should minimally seek to be as productive.

The fast food guys also managed to figure out that letting you fill up your own drinks and then going back to get free refills was cheaper and faster than dedicating two people behind the counter to do the same thing. So, why can’t us high-tech folks figure out a way to empower our users to recover data rather than always requiring storage administrators to perform this task for them?

Now, this is not meant to diminish the value that storage administrators provide or to say that data protection is akin to serving up a hamburger. Obviously, all data is not created equal and you don’t want just any user to be able to access and restore data for a mission-critical production environment. There is still too much complexity and the ramifications — financial, political and technical — if anything goes wrong are potentially enormous. But, should recovering a file on a file server in 2007 really require a call to the help desk, a storage administrator and a wait time of 30 minutes or longer?

Near-instant recovery of data in the 21st century should no longer be reserved for just applications deemed “mission-critical”. Companies have too few employees and too many applications running on too many different servers to possibly keep track of which applications are mission-critical and early indications are that the emerging world of virtual servers will only exacerbate this situation.

Now, I am not suggesting one immediately abandon one’s current backup software product in favor of new products like CommVault’s Continuous Data Replicator, NetApp’s Topio Data Protection Suite or InMage’s DR-Scout that can deliver near real-time data replication and recovery. Everyone should be extremely cautious about their data and proceed cautiously with any of these new products, because they all take time to implement and tune to your environment.

But, we should keep in mind this is 2007, not the 1980s, and there is a risk associated with not moving forward. Just as your computing environment has changed, new data protection technologies are available that are better suited for today’s environment. Unfortunately, if your company has not changed its fundamental approach to data protection and how it protects and recovers data, odds are your company is operating at a disadvantage when it comes to providing your users a level of service that in this day and age they should not have to ask for but should expect.

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  • Jesse (SanGod)
    Ok, part of the problem with continuing with the 'status-quo' for backups is that we don't retain data the way we used to. Sarbanes-Oxley and other compliance regulations, plus our own piggishness, have gone a long way to contributing to data bloat. Users fully expect that they will be able to instantly recall every peice of data ever stored at any instant. A case I had recently illustrates this. A user emailed our helpdesk to request the restore of a file. She gave the whole path, the time she deleted the file, etc. After searching through all of our backups, checkpoints, archives, etc, I was unable to locate it. It turns out she had created the file an hour and a half earlier. It took me almost an hour of explaining how backups work to convince her that...well...the file has to get through a backup cycle before it is protected. This is the level to which we've become accustomed to having access to our information. And while my EMC sales rep would like to disagree, it's much more about educating our users, rather than buying more hardware. Just my .02.
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