When it comes to data protection, anything goes

When I first started in the data protection space -- way back when Windows 95 was released, the first Toy Story movie hit the silver screen, and a series of caves was discovered in France that years later would lead to a fascinating Werner Herzog film – there weren’t a lot of choices for protecting enterprise data. You could back your data up to tape, or you could not back it up at all. They call that a Hobson’s Choice, I believe.

Well we’ve come a long way since then. Tape remains an option, but it is ever more frowned upon and for good reason. It can’t keep up with today’s rates of data growth (up to as much as 50% a year). The traditional method used for tape backup – daily file incrementals and weekly fulls – is just asking for trouble as any failure along the way can ruin your recovery. And the entire model of streaming data for restore – that is, taking a bunch of stuff sitting over there and moving it all over to here before you can use it – is hopelessly outdated when data footprints routinely rise into multiple Terabytes, if not even Petabytes.  

Fortunately, technology has moved on and we now have lots of other options for protecting data. You can back up to disk instead of tape. You can back up to deduplicating disk, which is even better. You can use snapshots on your primary disk systems. You can use disk-to-disk snapshots. You can use server-based replication. You can use network-based replication. You can use application-layer replication. You can back up to the cloud. In fact, there are so many ways to do things that you could almost say “anything goes” in data protection. And since I never miss an opportunity to insert Cole Porter lyrics into a conversation:

In olden days a glimpse of stocking

Was looked on as something shocking,

But now, God knows,

Anything Goes.

Well, that’s very clever, but it isn’t very relevant to the conversation, so let’s update the words just a bit.

In olden days when every backup

Was sent to tape things would crack-up!

But now, God knows,

Anything Goes.

A disk array can be your target now,

Backups so fast you’ll take a bow,

It's not slow!

Anything Goes.

Not only are disk backups faster, but they complete more reliably, which is even more important.  Speed and backup times are crucial, but the most important thing is that your backups succeed on a consistent basis. Because if they don’t you’re facing a choice even worse than Hobson’s: which is to say, no choice whatsoever. No backup, no recovery.    

But is backing up to disk enough by itself? Not necessarily. If you still use a tape paradigm – moving files in a streaming fashion to a target – then your disk recovery still leaves you sitting and waiting (and waiting and waiting…) for data to get from Point A to Point B. When users are burning up the help desk phones asking what happened to their email (or order entry system, or accounting software, or insert-your-worst-nightmare-here), then waiting hours and hours while a recovery progress bar crawls across the screen is not what you want. There is nothing slower on earth than a recovery progress bar when the entire company is – metaphorically – looking over your shoulder.

But again, unlike in olden days, we have choices now. The one truly viable solution for fast – really fast – recovery is snapshot technology. In the future, maybe there will be something entirely new that surpasses it, but for now it’s the best we have. The difference with snapshots is simple. With snapshots, you don’t have to move data from here to there. You just connect to it. This means your wait time goes from potentially hours down to a few minutes. And the amount of data doesn’t make any difference, so big snapshots can recover just as fast as small ones. 

Ok, it isn’t necessarily quite that simple. In future installations we’ll dig more into snapshots and how to actually use them to recover applications. Snaps can be great at getting your data back, but data and applications are two very different things. That link between data and application is where things get complicated.

But for now, since we’ve all agreed that snapshots are the bees knees, we can return to our musical interlude and wrap up our data protection version of “Anything Goes.”  And a one and a two…

The world it wants snaps today

Tape's a trap today,

And disk's in today

And tape's sin today,

When tape tech today

Seems like dreck today

Then snaps are how you must go.

The world is now replete with choices,

So listen to all the voices

That let you know,

Anything goes!

With much needed apologies to Cole Porter I’ll leave it at that, and we’ll talk more about how anything goes in upcoming blogs.   

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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