In managing information in enterprise applications, the opportunity to capture metadata must be integrated into the business continuity process. If we do not accurately define and capture the metadata needed to manage an information object and make it accessible over time, that object in effect becomes lost in a data swamp — unconnected to the context of its creation, left without the essential information needed for its interpretation, and lost in the mire. Failing to collect metadata about the creation and management processes, and the contexts of creation and use, severely limits the effectiveness of a business continuity system. Identifying the boundaries of such intellectually complex objects and then backing up and restoring them without compromising their position in the business process is a significant issue.
Traditional Backup Solutions Are Not ‘Application-Aware’
Traditional backup approaches (managing metadata via a RDBMS backup routine and documents via a file server backup utility) offer data availability, but they do not offer business continuity.
A typical enterprise application uses data stored within an RDBMS and documents stored within a file system. Some products exist for backing up an RDBMS. Other products exist to backup files and directories on a file system (including those marketed as Enterprise Solutions with hardware and software).
The problem with traditional backup/restore solutions is that there is no method for restoring an information object, in context, to an enterprise application. Even products that allow data to be backed up and recovered on a more granular basis (e.g., at the level of individual emails or files) are not application-aware and cannot restore an object with its relationships to other objects in a business process to an enterprise application. Traditional back-up solutions provide data availability, not business continuity.
Initially, systems simply stored static data. Over time, with the introduction of more robust enterprise applications, disconnected business processes (often paper-based) were incorporated into enterprise applications in order to streamline the processes and manage them more effectively.
Once business processes became part of enterprise applications, a new type of backup and restore method was needed to adequately protect this new form of dynamic, critical information. This is where application-aware technology as a means of enabling business continuity was developed.
The Application-Aware Approach
An application-aware solution ensures that critical business processes and content are protected by performing the following:
- Incremental backup of the content repository (metadata and content) while the system is “live.” Today’s enterprise applications must be available around the clock. The business continuity process cannot tolerate downtime, either to build back-up files, or restore a system. A traditional backup requires that the application be shut down. Application-aware solutions operate continuously in the background, while users continue to work.
- Object-level restoration (including object relationships). A traditional backup is an all-or-nothing approach. What happens if an individual object is accidentally deleted? With the traditional backup approach, a full restore to a non-production system is required. The deleted object must be laboriously identified and extracted from the restored system and added to the production system — a time-consuming manual process that is prone to error. An application-aware approach enables enterprises to quickly restore an individual object, with all of its relationships to other objects in a business process intact.
- Point-in-time restoration of objects (with object relationships). The traditional back-up approach has no awareness of the relationships that an object has to other objects in a business process (e.g., a document in a workflow). An application-aware approach keeps track of all attributes of an object, enabling you to restore an object to a specific point in time (e.g., a specific point in a workflow).
- Data integrity checking. Corrupt data from the perspective of the application can seriously impact the business processes that the system is designed to automate. The cost of rework to recover corrupt application information can far exceed the cost of a product that can help you recover the information to a valid state. The nature of cold backups is to backup all files in a system. Corrupted application references in a database file, for example, go undetected by the RDBMS. The corruption is logical, not physical. A corrupted database file is just another file to a traditional backup system, thus corrupted database files are backed up. An application-aware back-up solution checks the referential integrity among objects within an application system. Logical corruptions are identified and brought to the administrator’s attention, enabling proactive corrective action.
A Synergy of Back-up Approaches Provides Business Continuity
True business continuity arises from the synergy of traditional back-up approaches and the new, application-aware approach. The traditional approach ensures the availability of data by allowing the quick recovery of a filestore, while the application-aware approach ensures that the relevance of data to a business process is preserved. The application-aware approach provides the following benefits that are vital to achieving business continuity.
- It can back-up a system while the system is online, increasing the availability of the business process.
- It works incrementally, with minimal processing requirements, making it possible to greatly increase the frequency of backups, reducing the possibility of data loss.
- It preserves the relationships among objects in a system, greatly reducing the time required to restore a business process.
- It can restore objects to a system while the system is online, greatly increasing the availability of a business process.
- It can restore individual objects to a business process, including all relationships to other objects in the business process. This ensures that accidental deletions or object corruptions do not disrupt the continuity of a business process.
- It identifies logical corruption in a system, permitting proactive corrective action, ensuring that critical information is available when it is needed.
A key to survival in today’s Internet- and eCommerce-driven economy is recognition of the limitations of traditional backup technology, and understanding how an application-aware approach helps you to achieve true business continuity. Achieving a synergy of traditional backup methods and the new application-aware approach assures the continuity of your business processes.
Elaine S. Price is co-founder, president and CEO of CYA Technologies, a leading business continuity and secure collaboration provider. She has been an entrepreneur throughout her 20-year career in enterprise computing, by serving as CEO of three successful companies.