The state of backup

Rapid recovery, a wider gamut of data being backed up, lower downtime—these are all the trends in Enterprise Backup. By Jasmine Desai

According to Gartner, the enterprise distributed system backup/recovery software market is expected to grow to $5.2 billion by 2016, at a five year annual compound growth rate of 6.5 %. This underscores the precedence that backup is gaining in the overall IT strategy of any organization. This need for better and faster backup is heightened by increasingly strict regulations and a broader range of data that’s being used to support critical business operations. The top brass is pushing for rapid recovery capabilities and transparent reporting today.

Backup and recovery are a concern area for IT managers who need to handle ever larger and more varied volumes of data. Many organizations are simply not equipped to meet the backup and recovery challenge because they have an outdated infrastructure and their IT networks and systems cannot accommodate the increasing numbers of mission-critical applications that demand lower downtime. Nor can they deal with the complexity that arises from tailoring service levels to the needs of individual business applications.

In today’s information economy, backup has become quite complicated and expensive. As data stores grow and the value of data increases, the requirement for better backup technologies is being seen.

According to Forrester Research, over half of the Fortune 500 companies have greater than 50% of their company’s critical data residing outside the corporate headquarters or main data centers. This presents a significant potential risk for security and a great burden for IT to administer and backup the remote data. According to Robert Healey, Marketing Evangelist, Riverbed Technology, “Data protection is simple. It implies that you take everything and copy it somewhere far away so that it’s ready in the event of a disaster. The trick lies in doing this efficiently and reliably.”

Over the last 20 years, data has exploded and virtualization has been widely adopted making SLAs near impossible to comply with. These challenges also affect smaller businesses that struggle with the complexity of backup solutions and face the risk of data loss due to a disaster. The single most dramatic change in this area is that of sheer scale or volume of data as well as applications and virtual machines that cannot be processed by current backup solutions. According to Surajit Sen, Country Manager, Backup & Recovery Systems (BRS) division, EMC India & SAARC, “The primary motivation for deploying virtualization is to improve asset utilization. However, when compute power is utilized to this extent, there is not much room for backup.” A successful instance of combating the virtualization challenge would be that of Just Dial that embraced EMC’s Avamar technology for data backup post its virtualization project.

Another issue faced by administrators is that of keeping the backup window within reasonable limits. According to Vijay Mhaskar, Vice President, Information Management Group, Symantec, “Backup teams are frustrated with missed backup windows and non-integrated solutions for physical and virtual backups, deduplication and snapshots.  Currently, organizations face a situation where recovery, the end goal of why backups exist, is complex and unnecessarily expensive.”

A Symantec survey of 1,425 organizations worldwide revealed that only 28% of the companies were completely confident that 100% of the backed-up data could be recovered. Virtualization backup ranked second lowest among successful IT initiatives as the complexity necessitated more agile systems.

Then there’s the fact that many organizations lack the understanding of the difference between backup and archival. Furthermore, increasingly strict Recovery Time Objectives and Recovery Point Objectives and the need for shorter backup windows pose challenges. Organizations need a high availability and disaster recovery solution in order to achieve the desired Recovery Time Objective and Recovery Point Objective, with failover that’s near instantaneous. Guna Sekaran R, Country Manager, India & Sri Lanka, Quantum, said, “The challenge with regard to backup is that of keeping costs low in the face of data growth that typically runs 40-100+% per year, depending upon the organization.”

Akash Saraf, Managing Director & CEO, Zenith Infotech Ltd, commented, “Vendors are responding by moving to disk-based mechanisms as well as by building storage systems where the primary and backup storage is on the same box.”

Cloud backup
The concept sounds good because it is a CAPEX rather than an OPEX model. According to Aman Munglani, Research Director, Gartner Inc, “The issue lies in the fact that it is not a proven model, lacks reference accounts and the economies of going to a service provider vis-a-vis doing it in house remain unproven. It will take six months to a year for this service offering to gain traction.” Adoption is happening in bits and pieces today. Vendors like EMC partner with service providers who offer Backup as a Service. These alliances are not solely in terms of technology. Rather, they involve going to market together.

Hybrid Cloud backup is a trend worth tracking. According to Saraf of Zenith Infotech, “Hybrid Cloud backups involve a local backup as well as a remote copy. The purpose of the remote copy is for archival and DR.” Since SMBs are less likely to have a large IT infrastructure, Cloud-based backup is advantageous for these companies as it requires lesser IT staff and hardware. Larger organizations are still interested in Cloud backup but, all too often, they will look at private Cloud options

The age old tussle between tape and disk-based backup continues. Lots of organizations are talking about D2D2T. Munglani of Gartner said, “Tape is not dead and it will not die anytime soon. Lots of organizations have their primary data on tape. Companies that can survive a certain amount of downtime are definitely eying the tape.” Fundamentally, tape-based backup is affordable.

There are always conflicting opinions when it comes to tape as opposed to disk-based backup. According to Healey of Riverbed Technology, “Organizations continue to struggle with the administrative burden and costs associated with tape-based data protection. Not only is tape hard to manage, many companies encounter issues while recovering data. One of the challenges faced by organizations while using tape backup is the limited capacity of data retention.”  Data keeps growing in volume and people require quick backups, which a tape backup cannot provide as opposed to a disk backup. In addition, disks are equipped with the data de-duplication feature wherein redundant data can be omitted during backup, which makes it preferable option for backup as compared to tape. Organizations also require a backup that can recover data more quickly and, in such cases, tape backup falls short of these expectations. Moreover, tape backups are a drawback during disasters, as disaster recovery is not so prominent a feature in them. In the long run, disk backup gives a better ROI than tape.

Vikas Pradhan, Country Director, Commvault, said, “Although there is a fair amount of talk about backup to disk, and it is faster, the issue is that it does consume a lot of power. Also, some organizations do not have a disk to tape facility.”

The upshot is that both methods have their merits and drawbacks. It’s a case of what an organization’s needs are in terms of how quickly it needs to restore information, how long it can tolerate downtime and so on. Most organizations seem to be considering disk-based options for recent data (30-60-90 days etc) and tape for long term archival.

Data de-duplication is coming of age. Its benefits are clearly being recognized by organizations across the board. When de-duplication is done at the source, it reduces the amount of data that has to be backed up.

Organizations are looking for faster backup and integrated management for backup and snapshots from a single tool that can manage tape, disk, physical and virtual environments. They will also look for the ability to combine software, appliance and Cloud-based backup solutions for greater choice and flexibility. Technologies such as Cloud storage and Backup as a Service will gain prominence.

It is no secret that the rise of virtualization and dramatic rise in corporate data have combined to create some unique pressures inside the data center. Companies have the same or even less time to back up substantially larger data sets and high-density virtual environments. Meeting backup windows and successfully protecting data on a daily basis continue to be major pain points, putting recovery and business continuity at risk.

Traditional approaches to data protection no longer cut the mustard. They offer organizations little in the way of reducing complexity or lowering costs. Mhaskar of Symantec said, “What is needed is an approach that provides organizations with the same visibility into their virtual environment that they have with their physical environment.”

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