The Business Problems
Succinctly stated, branch office backup doesn’t work. In part, it doesn’t work in the branch because businesses cannot afford to staff remote offices with highly skilled backup operators. Backup within branches also doesn’t work for IT budgets, which are stretched thin in an attempt to accommodate the ever-expanding requirements for data protection and management as new branches are opened and as data continues to grow. The annual maintenance fees and service contracts associated with attempting to maintain branch backup are also draining budgets from more strategic investments urgently required in the data center locations.
Additionally, dealing with tapes is a major hassle for branch office employees because they are made responsible for knowing when backups are supposed to happen, when tapes are supposed to be rotated, and where back-up tapes are supposed to be stored. They are also responsible, usually without sufficient training, to ensure that backups are completing successfully. Most of the time, if a tape jams or some other problem occurs that prevents a backup from being completed, the problem is not discovered until the worst possible moment: during a recovery. Being responsible for these types of critical activities distracts employees from their normal tasks, which can include serving customers, and slows the branch networks and systems during the hours that the backup is performed that impacts customer service and other branch business operations.
As could be expected, many companies have no idea how much data they have in their branch offices, and when they find out, they are often surprised to learn what it is costing them to try to protect that data and how long and difficult restoring data within those environments can be when failures occur. In the event of an outage, it is not unusual to have to fly in someone from headquarters that can put the system back on its feet again. This, of course, takes more time and costs more money. The situation is worsened by the nature of the business conducted within branch offices: these can be bank branches, department stores, doctor’s offices, and hotels that deal directly with customers, collect money, or have other customer-facing business activities.
Bottom line, a tremendous amount of money is being spent to manage data in a tremendously inefficient and ineffective way. For example, many of the tapes used for backup at the branch offices are not fully loaded with data when they are taken offsite, so storage space and the cost of the tape is underutilized. As a result, branch office backup and recovery is wasting a tremendous amount of money. How much? According to a survey conducted by In-Stat MDR, 40 percent of IT budgets for enterprise companies will be spent on branch offices in 2004, and that percentage is growing. Something has to change.
The Move to Replication
Replication technology with real-time, continuous capture and transmission of changed data, offers some relief to these problems. Replication encourages hardware and data consolidation within the branch – which can save money and ease data management – while removing the burden and responsibility of operating backups from branch office personnel. At the same time, it greatly enhances data protection and recovery by transmitting all new or changed data in real time to central locations as it is created. This precludes the permanent data loss that frequently occurs in conventional systems when data is changed or added after the last backup. So, when a failure occurs, recovery can now restore data to the last moment before the failure – instead of to the last time a backup was made.
With replication, the personnel previously burdened with operating onsite branch office backup are freed up to concentrate on serving customers and running the business. In addition, branch data is put in the hands of professional, trained storage and systems administrators and in centralized locations where businesses can afford to place robust data management infrastructure. For example, e-mail archives and repositories required for compliance with Sarbanes-Oxley and other regulations can be more easily achieved and are more cost effective in centralized locations. Centralizing data from branches not only streamlines the storage process, but may save organizations from having to pay the huge fines that are assessed when data is not available in response to regulatory demands.
And regulatory demands are becoming more and more stringent. For example, while not dictating distances, as of April 11, 2003, the Securities and Exchange Commission issued a “recommendation” that backup is performed at offsite locations rather than at the primary locations at which the data is created. The purpose of this recommendation is “to strengthen the resilience of critical U.S. financial markets” in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The SEC tightened this up more in April 2004, with a follow-on recommendation. In this case, “recommendation” is closely akin to an “order.”
Replication is also superior to conventional branch office backup systems in terms of point-in-time data recovery, which is a key aspect of backup and recovery. The problem with traditional systems is that when operating efficiently, they record data onto tape in a stop-start fashion until the tape is full. This means that the data is exposed to possible damage or destruction such as by fire or flood until it is removed from the premises. Replication avoids that situation by transmitting all new and changed data offsite as it is created, which provides businesses with up-to-the-moment, point-in-time recovery of data that is safe from large-scale and regional impacts.
Advantages for Microsoft Exchange Users
Replication is a boon for businesses relying on Microsoft Exchange because Exchange is often located in branch environments and has been inadequately protected in most environments. By centralizing Exchange data as it is created, storage and systems administrators can have the peace of mind that comes from knowing that e-mail and messaging data is properly backed up and readily available if it is needed quickly. Additional value can be added to Exchange environments because advanced e-mail management tools can be applied to Exchange data at the central location. Also, because the data is centralized, it can be indexed, which makes it even more easily accessible and compliant with company and regulatory requirements.
Reliability and Resiliency of Replication
Windows host-based replication technologies have long been on the market. However, it wasn’t until the last several years that sufficient reliability and resiliency has been built into these offerings to make them suitable for branch data consolidation including for critical applications such as Microsoft Exchange. Businesses need reliable data replication that will not only continue to operate consistently, but also provide coherency of replicated data.
Overcoming Network Bandwidth Concerns
A common concern raised by IT managers considering adoption of replication technologies is the amount of network bandwidth that will be required and whether network connections will need to be dedicated. Of course, exact network requirements will vary. However, with the right replication product, networks can be effectively shared with other business traffic by using scheduling and throttling capabilities, so network performance can be maintained during peak usage hours and replication can be sped up during non-peak hours, such as overnight. Replication by definition only needs to replicate the changes in data as they occur at the branch. When combined with built-in compression, businesses can often use existing T1 networks shared with other traffic to carry replication from their branch offices.
To summarize, there are substantial, branch office cost savings that result from replication:
Backup software no longer needs to be maintained and supported, which eliminates annual maintenance and support contract fees.
The need for back-up servers and tape drives is also eliminated, and more money is saved because tapes are fully utilized.
There is a single back-up deployment team of people trained specifically to maintain storage operations.
Freed of back-up and recovery duties, branch office employees are no longer in a position to make costly mistakes while handling back-up data. In addition, they become more productive by concentrating on their core competencies.
Existing branch office data backup and recovery systems are an expensive, inefficient, and obsolete bust. They constantly put business-critical data at risk. They require that data backup be maintained and operated by branch office employees who were hired to perform other tasks. They slow branch systems during backup, and they detract from customer service and other critical branch operations. And, with increasing regulations governing data management, attempting to manage data in branches has become not only impractical and inefficient, but can actually risk the reputation of the business.
Savvy storage and systems administrators realize that replication is the logical successor to the branch office backup systems of the past. Replication technologies have matured, to be reliable and robust enough to carry business-critical data and to work with back-up and recovery infrastructure at the central site. And, without requiring new investments in hardware, networks, or equipment that would cause replication to be too burdensome for organizations to deploy.
Kelly Harriman-Polanski is vice president of availability marketing in EMC’s software group division. She can be reached at email@example.com.