How many times over the last several years have you added some new piece of hardware or software technology to your backup system only to find that nothing really changed -- backups still failed, took too long or did not yield restorable results? How much money was spent patching a system that was fundamentally flawed -- old technology software, inadequate infrastructure, poorly designed in the first place, beyond the original design scope?
Most backup solutions were designed many years ago contemplating a different problem than exists today, especially as we plan the move from a physical to a virtual environment. This renders most existing backup solutions obsolete. The problem is, like an incumbent politician, they are very difficult to unseat.
Based on my reading and knowledge of technology advances over the last several years, I am guessing that most folks have applied at least one Band-Aid to their system that did not yield tangible results. In many cases they have probably applied many: tape technology upgrade, another library, more network bandwidth, deduplication, virtual tape library (VTL), etc. After all of this, the solution is still not providing the desired results. This is due primarily to the simple fact that the original solution design did not work. Adding more “stuff” to it made it more complex, but did not make it better.
Perhaps it is time, time to tear it all out and replace it with something designed to solve your current problems, and especially, to meet or exceed all of your business service level agreements for recovery point and time objectives. Perhaps it is time to do it right once and for all. Take a step back and determine what tactical and strategic objectives a complex backup, archive and disaster recovery solution can provide your business.
Backup has been viewed as fundaentally tactical and has not been graced with the planning and dedication other complex systems in your enterprise have enjoyed. Unfortunately, as many executives and contingency planners across the globe have learned, a failed restore can be the most serious problem a business has faced. While other aspects of a company’s IT infrastructure have evolved, many times the backup solution has not. If you are in the process of moving your physical environment to a virtual one, now is an ideal time to get your backup house in order, then perhaps it is time.
As we all know, pulling a Band-Aid off slowly is more painful than just grabbing hold and yanking. Believe it or not, the same is true with your existing backup solution. Just grab it by its firmly attached tape drive and pull it all out. Dump that old tape library, pitch that old tape technology, toss the software developed in the 1960s that is trying to disguise itself as a 21st century application. Rip it all out! Put it on the ash heap of your history and be done with it. Do not save any of it. It’s all either old, used up or both. It is actually costing more money to keep than to replace, especially if you factor in all of its failures and the time spent keeping it running as well as it is. Maybe you have purchased something that does have some current value, but carefully evaluate. Just because it is new does not mean it is useful.
Instead of coming at the problem from a technology standpoint, how does deduplication make my backup better? Come at it from a business standpoint. Ask yourself, what technology do I need to satisfy my tactical and strategic needs? Taking technology and searching for a problem for it to solve generally results in failure. It may be fun fooling with new technology, but it is more fun to actually solve a problem with it. Treat technology as a set of tools at your disposal. Make technology decisions in the context of business problems rather than the other way around.
Start from scratch. What do I have to back up? How important is it? How quickly do I need to get it back? Should it be replicated? Is my data really a candidate for a comprehensive high availability (HA) solution? What are my compliance archiving needs? How will I handle my new virtual environment? How is that different from the physical environment? How much money do I have? Come at this from your business’ perspective rather than from a technology perspective. Describe your tactical and strategic business problems first. Then, begin to develop the ideal solution from that business perspective.
Once you have completely described the ideal solution, then you can evaluate technology that might address these objectives. Choose technologies that solve the problems you have described. If you do not have a problem addressed by some technology, you do not need that technology. Does this make sense? Of course it does, but we are so conditioned to applying another technology Band-Aid that we often forget about the initial problem we were trying to solve.
Like many complex IT solutions you have been asked to deploy, this one has a very similar problem: repetition. How many times have you implemented a complex backup solution successfully? The answer is probably less than once or twice. Backup/archive and disaster recovery solutions are as complex as any other major IT project, and possibly even more important. This is one of the reasons the Band-Aid approach has been applied: starting from scratch is just too hard. Patch and pray is easier.
Kelly Lipp is the CTO of STORServer, Inc, tasked with evaluating best-in-class technologies and building them into comprehensive backup/archive and disaster recovery solutions. His 20 years in the storage industry position him uniquely to choose the right technology to solve the problem at hand.
"Appeared in DRJ's Spring 2009 Issue"