The future of enterprise data backup and recovery

Charles Harmer, sales manager at SpectrumITech, looks at a new approach to protect business-critical data often stored outside the reach of conventional enterprise backup mechanisms.

One of the greatest challenges facing IT professionals is effectively protecting business-critical information, particularly the growing amount of data stored on distributed desktops, remote and laptop computers.

Most storage management and backup software products lack the critical features required for the complete protection of all information stored on these machines. Specifically users need comprehensive recovery tools to help them easily find and restore lost data and quickly bring idle computers back to full operation.

A new approach to data storage management and protection is essential. The ideal solution should allow quick and easy recovery from any type of information loss including simple user errors, failed software installations, hardware failures and lost or stolen laptops. It should also address local storage on desktops and laptops as well as distributed server storage.

Data at risk

According to industry experts more than 50 per cent of critical data is stored on desktop and laptop computers outside the reach of most enterprise storage management software products.

This data is at significant risk. Many IT departments encourage users to save critical data to available network servers under the control of enterprise software. This policy, in most cases, is not successful since users store data locally, especially mobile users who are seldom connected to a network.

There are many ways that users can corrupt or lose information, including inadvertent file deletion, inadvertent file overwrites, new software installs, lost or stolen computers, hardware failures, virus or hacker attacks and natural disasters.

The cost of restoring the lost information or restoring a computer to operation after a hardware or software failure is high due to the costs of technical support and lost employee productivity.

One of the primary reasons organizations do not perform frequent backups is that traditional storage management software runs over the network and can negatively impact network performance. As a result many companies can only perform backups during off hours.

However this approach is also flawed because it exposes data to loss. A storage management solution that minimizes network loading enables companies to perform backups as needed during the day.

Protection for all information types

The ideal storage management solution should back up files and information automatically and in real time.

In addition organizations need a storage management and data protection solution that enables them to cope with rapidly increasing storage volumes and the increased complexity of desktop and laptop computers.

There are two main types of information stored on laptops and desktops:

  • recoverable information - information that can be recovered through an installation if it's lost, including operating system or application software;
  • unrecoverable information - information that cannot easily be recreated, such as documents, presentations or spreadsheets.

A storage management solution should address the protection of recoverable as well as unrecoverable information. The need to protect unrecoverable data is obvious - unless this data is protected it must be manually recreated if it is lost.

As for recoverable data, although it may be recoverable through reinstallation, the process can be extremely time-consuming and costly. To reinstall an updated application users must install the application plus all the updates. In addition all preferences and options need to be reset to their exact state prior to the loss.

Real-time client backup

A real-time client backup solution can fulfill today's storage management needs. Real-time backup operates automatically as changes are made. It does not rely on a schedule since data loss does not occur on a schedule.

Increasingly the most valuable information is mission-critical, meaning it has just been created or is being continually modified for the task at hand. Easy-to-use recovery tools are also critically important to bring back lost files and systems. These tools should include:

  • self-serve file recovery - the ability to recover from simple file loss without IT assistance; 
  • fast system restores - the ability to have all files quickly restored to a previous functioning or uncorrupt state;
  • bare-metal disaster recovery - the ability to have entire systems and settings easily rebuilt after a disaster strikes or when the system is lost or stolen.

If users are to embrace client backup, the backup process must be transparent. Users must be able to continue to work with little or no interruption.

There must be protection while the computer is disconnected from the network, and there must be automatic storage management synchronization when the computer is reconnected to the network.

New or changed data should be replicated immediately to the disk drive whenever a file is saved or closed.

Furthermore the solution should automatically protect files that typically remain open such as email databases. Replicating all non-temporary data to a storage device that is physically separate from the machine can protect this valuable data.

This is typically done through mirroring to a backup storage device such as a network server. This enables the user to quickly recover the lost data by simply accessing the redundant storage.

Ideal characteristics

The solution should also provide a versioning capability. That is it should allow users to roll files back to a particular previous version. This allows them to recover from inadvertent changes made to the files.

The solution should employ data compression and eliminate redundancies and temporary data in the backup data repository.

To qualify as a true enterprise solution a storage management system must be able to scale across the entire enterprise. This means it must be able to handle multiple servers spread across wide geographical areas.

The solution should further leverage technologies such as clustering and load balancing to support hundreds or even thousands of client computers. It also must support various network infrastructures and firewall configurations.

Network administration and management represent a major component of the total cost of network ownership. The administrator should be able to install, configure and administer storage management client software from a central location without travelling to each client site.

Meeting the challenge

Storage is growing at an accelerating rate and data is becoming more valuable. In addition, desktop and laptop software is growing in complexity and size. As a result, storage is becoming much harder to manage and protect.

Therein lies the challenge for IT professionals: ensuring the effective management and protection of increasingly valuable data and software automatically and in real time, including data on desktop and laptop computers.

The ideal storage management solution must address all data in real time, deliver continuous rather than periodic protection of all data and provide comprehensive, easy-to-use data and disaster recovery tools.

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