Most available storage management and backup software products come up short in providing complete protection for all critical information, especially information stored on desktop and laptop computers. They also come up short in providing comprehensive recovery tools that can easily find and restore lost data, as well as quickly bring desktop and laptop computers to full operation after software or hardware failures.
What is required is a new approach to data storage management and protection. The ideal solution must address local storage on desktops and laptops as well as distributed server storage. It must also 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.
Increased Vulnerability and Complexity Of Desktop and Laptop Systems
According to Bear Stearns, more than 50 percent of critical data is now stored on desktop and laptop computers. This data is outside the reach of most enterprise storage management software products and is at a significant risk to loss. To get around the problem, many IT departments have encouraged their users to store critical data on network servers to bring it within the reach and control of enterprise storage management and backup software. This policy, however, has met with only limited success. Laptop computers present a particularly difficult storage management and backup problem in that most are only occasionally connected to a network and must be able to work offline. This makes storing active data on servers impractical.
Complicating this trend, today’s desktop and laptop computers are far more complex than those of just a few years ago. Not only have operating systems become more complex, but also the number and complexity of applications has increased dramatically. The result is that restoring desktop and laptop systems to full operation after a failure, such as a system file corruption or a hard disk crash, is time consuming and requires the intervention of highly skilled technical support personnel.
The Pitfalls Are Many and The Costs Are High
There are many ways that users can corrupt or lose information, including inadvertent file deletion, inadvertent file overwrite, new software install, lost or stolen computer, hardware failure, virus or hacker attack, and natural disaster. In any case, the cost of restoring the lost information or restoring a computer to operation after a hardware or software failure is high.
As Table 1 (on page 72) shows, the annual cost attributable to data loss is roughly $800 per PC. The cost is high because storage loss not only requires the efforts of technical support people to recover the lost information but it also negatively impacts employee productivity due to system unavailability. Multiply that $800 by the total number of PCs in the organization and the potential impact of storage loss on profitability becomes apparent.
The high cost of data and system loss can more than offset the costs of providing effective protection. The plummeting prices and increasing capacities of storage devices allow organizations to cost justify client-side protection through storage management software that replicates critical data as well as system and application software in centralized storage facilities. A storage management solution can easily pay for itself in a short period of time.
Criteria for Protecting Recoverable, Unrecoverable Data
Organizations need a storage management and data protection solution that enables them to cope with the rapidly increasing storage volume, especially the increasing proliferation of data on desktop and laptop computers, and the increased complexity of desktop and laptop computers. To be effective, the solution must meet a number of requirements.
There are three types of information stored on laptops and desktops:
• Recoverable information. Information such as operating system or application software that can be recovered through reinstallation if lost.
• Unrecoverable information. Information such as data, documents, presentations, or spreadsheets that cannot be easily recreated, if they can be recreated at all.
• Temporary information. Information, such as scratch files, that is created and used by applications only while they are running and typically deleted when the application is closed.
The ideal 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. The solution should also protect recoverable data. Although this information may be recoverable through reinstall, the process can be extremely time-consuming and costly – in reinstalling an updated application, a user must install the application plus all the updates. In addition, the user must reset all preferences and options to restore the application to its exact state prior to the loss.
Protection In Real-Time
As the above section suggests, the ideal storage management solution must provide comprehensive, up-to-the-moment data protection. A real-time client backup solution does not rely on a schedule because data loss incidents do not occur on a set schedule. And more often than not, the most valuable information an end-user has is mission-critical, which means it has either just been created or is being continually modified for the task at hand.
Easy-To-Use Recovery Tools
A storage management solution that cannot recover lost data is not very useful. This in mind, the ideal management and backup solution should provide recovery tools that make it easy for users and IT to bring back lost files and systems. These tools should include:
• Self-serve file recovery. Users should be able to recover from simple file loss on their own, without burdening IT.
• Fast system restores. In the case of a malfunctioning system due to corruption or a virus attack, the ideal solution should allow all files to be restored quickly to a previous good state.
• Bare-metal disaster recovery. When disaster strikes and a PC becomes unbootable, or when a laptop is lost or stolen, the ideal storage management solution should allow entire systems and settings to be easily rebuilt.
Protection For Occasionally Connected Computers
Most current enterprise storage management products deal primarily with server data. But since more than half of all critical data is stored locally on desktop and laptop computers, it is essential that this data be effectively managed along with server data.
The ideal storage management solution should provide complete protection for desktop and laptop computers. Complete protection must encompass occasionally connected computers, such as laptops, as well as continuously connected computers. This means that the solution should provide some form of protection while the computer is disconnected from the network. In addition, the solution should provide storage management synchronization when the computer is reconnected to the network.
It is important that the solution provide protection without requiring end-user intervention and without interrupting system availability to perform cumbersome backup procedures. Protection should be automatic and proactive to minimize the delay in replicating new or changed data. Ideally, new or changed data should be replicated as soon as it is committed to the disk drive, such as whenever a file is saved or closed. Furthermore, the solution should automatically protect files that usually remain open during the entire PC session, such as e-mail databases, without requiring any user action.
Mirroring and Versioning
To ensure the ability to recover from data loss, the solution should replicate all non-temporary data to a storage device that is physically separate from the machine to be protected. This is typically accomplished through mirroring to a backup storage device such as a network server. The user can quickly recover from hardware failure by accessing the redundant storage.
In addition to mirroring, the system should provide a versioning capability. That is, it should allow the user to roll files back to a particular previous version. This allows a user to recover from inadvertent changes made to the files. For example, it allows the user to return to an earlier operating version of a system if a problem occurs during the installation or update of an application that breaks the application, or worse yet breaks the operating system. With versioning, the user can simply roll back to the previously working version of the application system. This is far easier than having to reinstall the original application plus all its updates and resetting all preferences and options, and possibly even having to reinstall the operating system.
The volume of data being stored on networks is growing dramatically. As a result, the volume of backup data that must be stored by a storage management solution is also climbing. The ideal storage management solution must maximize the storage efficiency of this backup data as well as the efficiency of its transmission over the network. To do so, the solution should employ data compression and eliminate redundancies and temporary data in the backup data repository.
If users are to embrace client backup, the backup process must not noticeably impact the performance of their desktop or laptop PCs. The ideal storage management and backup software should operate transparently in the background, allowing users to continue to work just as they always have, with little or no interruption or delay.
Minimal Impact On Network Performance
In addition to being transparent to the end user, the ideal storage management solution should not noticeably degrade network performance. One of the primary reasons organizations do not perform frequent backups today is that with traditional storage management software, backups over the network can negatively impact network performance.
As a result, many companies perform backups during off hours to minimize the impact of the slowdown on employee productivity. This exposes data to loss. A storage management solution that minimizes network loading permits companies to perform backups as needed during the day to ensure a high level of data protection.
Enterprise Orientation And Scalability
To qualify as a true enterprise solution, a storage management system must be scalable to accommodate the entire enterprise. This means it must be able to handle multiple servers spread across wide geographical areas. The solution should leverage technologies such as clustering and load balancing to support hundreds, 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. As a result, it is important that the ideal storage management solution help keep administration costs under control by permitting centralized administration and control. The administrator should be able to install, configure, and administer storage management client software from a central location without traveling to each client site. This includes the ability to manage storage on laptop computers and remote desktop computers such as those used by telecommuters.
Conclusions For Protecting Valuable Workstation Data
Storage is growing at an accelerating rate, and it is rapidly propagating onto desktop and laptop computers. In addition, desktop and laptop software is growing in complexity and size. As a result, storage is becoming much harder to manage and protect. At the same time, data is becoming more valuable. Therein lies the challenge for IT professionals – to ensure effective management and protection of a company’s increasingly valuable data and software, including that found on desktop and laptop computers.
Meeting this challenge requires a solution with a fresh approach to storage management, one designed specifically for the distributed environment rather than being adapted from centralized or desktop environments.
The solution must address all data, including that stored on desktop and laptop computers – even laptops that are only occasionally connected to networks. The solution must deliver continuous rather than periodic protection of all data. And it must provide comprehensive, easy-to-use data and disaster recovery tools so that IT organizations can meet the storage management challenge and help their companies maintain a competitive edge.
Steve Sussman is a product manager for the Marina del Rey, Calif.-based Storactive and oversees the product direction for Storactive LiveBackup, the industry’s only true real-time data protection and disaster recovery solution for client PCs and laptops. He can be reached by contacting Storactive at (310) 302-7280 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.