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Wednesday, 22 October 2014 19:35

Backup is Broken ... And Here's The Fix

Written by  Dr. Alistair Forbes

Keeping backup operations up to date and running smoothly should be a top priority for every organization. With budgets and programs robust enough to choose from the latest high-end software, networks and devices, most large corporations are able to provide peace of mind that data will be available and recoverable anytime and anywhere.

Multi-tiered systems and additional space are integral components to the backup and recovery plan, and increasingly the most successful plans are also incorporating cloud to provide an added layer of protection.

However, for small to mid-sized organizations, non-profits and educational institutions, funding and support for the latest backup and recovery technologies can be harder to justify. Keeping up with growing data and storage demands can mean significant ongoing investments in equipment, software, policies and personnel. To make up for limited resources, backup plans are often constructed from separate pieces in an attempt to bridge outdated systems to current data demands. The result is uncertainty about whether the backup and recovery plan will be effective, and organizations may have no way of knowing until a recovery event occurs.

From large corporations to small to medium-sized business, the need for efficient, affordable and scalable data backup is evident, and current models are failing. Simply put, backup is broken and in need of a change.

Why backup is broken

Despite evolving requirements and technology, many organizations are attempting to make old backup models fit their new environment. In reality, the pieces just don’t fit. What once worked to periodically back up data can no longer keep up with the advanced and constant flow of data businesses are tasked with protecting today.

For the past several years Gartner has examined the state of backup, and called out a number of ongoing factors that are contributing to its lack of success and progression. Among those takeaways was the point that we can no longer “shut off” data. Rather, organizations are dealing with a constant inflow of information that requires management on an ongoing basis.

This issue becomes more prevalent each year, with data pouring in from humans, machines and even sensors. The industry has failed to adequately account for these rapid changes, and as a result backup systems have suffered. In its latest report, “Gartner Report 2014: Addressing the Broken State of Backup,” the research firm added to is list of factors contributing to the broken state of backup, which makes it clear one of the largest obstacles businesses are facing is the proliferation of data.

Gartner identified key factors contributing to the broken state of backup:

  • Lack of consistent testing and verification

  • Backup failures

  • Technology obsolescence

  • Exponential data growth

  • Proliferation of new applications

  • Adoption of virtualization

  • Need for continual data access

With backup success rates today between 75 and 85 percent, many companies' faith in backup is challenged or even broken. Incomplete backups, the need to restore numerous incremental backups, user error and software or hardware failure all contribute to this large gap in success, and reliance on the old systems and blind faith in their ability to recover data means backup failures can be catastrophic for a business.

Too often, business rely on backup and recovery as a failsafe, and while the hope and goal is provide those benefits, the lax attitude and overly confident reliance on it has made users less careful about how they protect data on an ongoing basis.

The obstacles to efficient backup

Despite having made investments in the tools and technology that should ensure data protection, many businesses are creating their own obstacles to efficient backup by failing to establish the right practices or take full advantage of their investment. Some of the most common obstacles include:

Relying on a Single Tier

Businesses don’t always think about backup -- until they need to and it may be too late. Because backup is out of sight and out of mind until an emergency occurs, organizations often wait long stretches of time between backing up data and even longer between test restores, if they do them at all. This means data and files are at risk of becoming outdated by the time the backup occurs or the recovery is needed. Further, they often avoid or put off investing in multi-tiered backup technologies.

Relying on a single tier of backup is the equivalent of putting all your eggs into one basket. Without added tiers of protection, businesses are counting on the backup and recovery being both available and successful, and leaving themselves with no options if an error occurs. Redundancy is key to providing protection to data.

Technology Integrations

When it comes to finding the right mix of technologies to support backup, it can be a balancing act. Using multiple technologies in tandem does offer the promise of providing added security, but only if those systems integrate and communicate seamlessly. When virtual machines are brought into the mix, this integration becomes even more important. But as smaller organizations approach the cloud for the first time, backing up these virtual assets pose an additional challenge.

Virtual Backup

Even with the dramatic increases in the volume and diversity of business data, many businesses make investments into external disk storage such as Storage Area Networks (SAN) that provide only an on-site recovery solution. Replicating such infrastructure to provide off-site protection can be a very costly exercise. Businesses need to shift toward an approach that includes the cloud. Pairing on-site and hosted capabilities both managed using the latest generation of software can dramatically improve the speed of backup and ability to serve customers’ backup needs.

The unknown or new challenges of backing up virtual machines can act as another obstacle for business as they navigate whether to mirror, share or copy virtual files.

The Right Availability Mix

Another area that causes hiccups in the implementation of a new backup investment strategy is the question of availability – how readily available should the data be, and at what speed can or should it be recovered.

Finding the right balance between instant restore for fast access to data, and freeing up usable space can be tricky for any organization, and particularly those new to navigating the potential of hybrid backup models.

Compliance

Compliance and regulation like HIPPA and PCI have always and will continue to create challenges and obstacles for IT broadly, and backup is no exception. While changes to compliance standards are necessary and inevitable, many organizations are ill equipped to keep up with the rapid pace of those changes, and often lack the right infrastructure to adapt adequately.

The Restoration Revolution

Whether data is lost due to a catastrophic event or simply user error, we need better systems in place to plan for these potential issues and the inevitable need for recovery. In the 15-25 percent of backups that don’t work, the issues that caused the backup to fail were likely not discoverable before the backup was attempted. It’s time to approach backup differently -- from an ongoing perspective.

The cloud is no longer a just a buzzword - it’s a major part of IT today and it can’t be ignored. Integrating cloud storage with intelligent backup software means data can be prioritized, categorized and backed up/recovered in the most efficient way using either local copies or cloud-based storage as appropriate.

In a recovery situation, data that has been classified as high-priority from the cloud can be addressed almost immediately, ensuring that critical operations are restored first and quickly. Lower priority files and data can be addressed as makes sense financially and time-wise to the organization. Whether those files are physically shipped or restored to the cloud, businesses have options.

Revamping Backup Strategies

Fast, secure and reliable backup is a business-critical function today. For organizations large and small, finding the right combination of tools and support to provide backup-as-a-service (BaaS) in a cloud-based environment should be a priority.

Revamping a backup investment strategy can seem daunting, but when evaluating options, business should weigh the following:

  • Increased efficiency: How does the renewed strategy help to eliminate ineffective uses of resources, whether time, personnel or storage space?
  • Scalability: How flexible is the backup and recover approach? Does it allow for varying levels of recovery speed, storage and prioritization? Does it factor in the growing influx of data from a variety of sources?
  • Successful backup: Consider the success rates of the overall solution and strategy in regard to backup as well as restores.
  • Easy management & upgrades: Unless a team is equipped to effectively manage and upgrade a backup solution, the promise of its value is meaningless. Tools should be easily integrated into existing programs and work well with virtual and local components. Consider the ease of use and ongoing management of the strategy

An increasingly attractive approach to backup and recovery is a hybrid cloud backup, or disk-to-disk-to-cloud (D2D2C), which utilizes both on-site and cloud-based storage mechanisms seamlessly in a way that offers a long-term strategy for reliable backup and recovery. This approach offers comprehensive and integrated backup and recovery capabilities without the need to buy and manage the actual infrastructure for the second tier.

With the right mix of software, D2D2C allows users to backup data on a local disk, as well as to the cloud. The data can be stored on a network-attached device and can easily be accessed locally. When recovery is needed, this advanced approach can help organizations determine the best place, either locally or remotely, to restore the data.

Innovative strategies are pushing out the status quo and driving a change in the way businesses view the protection of data. If backup is broken, emerging models that view backup and recovery as a holistic approach, both local and virtual, are promising solutions.

About the Author:

alistair-forbesAs general manager of LogicNow, Alistair Forbes is responsible for the company’s engineering, marketing and support operations. Forbes was previously the General Manager of the GFI MAX business unit of GFI Software, during which time the company’s solutions for managed service providers attained a global market leading position, with more than 10,000 MSPs around the world entrusting their businesses to the company’s cloud-based monitoring and management platform. He joined GFI following the acquisition of HoundDog Technology, which he co-founded in 2004. Alistair has extensive technology leadership experience in both SMB and large corporate environments, defining and delivering high tech solutions in a number of vertical markets. He has particular expertise in internet and software as a service technologies and has been responsible for delivering a range of innovative online solutions over the last 15 years. Originally qualified as a research scientist, Forbes has also held senior roles in consulting organizations, gaining insight into a broad range of business sectors.  has a B.Sc. from Aberdeen University and a Ph.D. from the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne.