What to consider when deploying integrated backup, recovery and archive

Companies today rely on outdated backup and recovery processes. To expedite backup, IT professionals use differential or incremental backups, connect multiple servers to a tape system, or even skip backups or back up information less frequently. While this may increase backup speeds, it worsens recovery times, which should be the priority. By integrating and aligning backup, recovery and archival processes, organizations will be able to optimize the recovery and retrieval of information and improve production performance.

Backup and archiving are different

The first step in moving to a new system is to understand the difference between backup and archive. Backups are copies of active production information used when a problem arises within a production environment, and a recovery copy is needed to get the business up and running. Since backups are focused on constantly changing business information, a newer and known good copy is always preferred to an older copy, so backups are generally short-term and often overwritten.

Archives do not focus on "recovering" an application or business data, but allow for information retrieval -- usually at the level of a file, e-mail or other individual piece of content. Archives are not copies of production data, but rather the primary version of a piece of often inactive or nonchanging data. In fact, when data stops changing or is no longer frequently used, it is often best to move it to an archive, where it lives outside the backup window and can still be accessed.

Integrating backup and archive

There are some solid advantages to moving fixed content into an online active archive and out of the production environment. Tier 1 production system capacity is reduced. Backups are on smaller active data sets, so backup windows are shorter. Recoveries have content that is less static, and they are faster and easier to manage. Information retrievals come from the searchable online archive, not out of a backup image. Application performance improves and is more consistent since there is less data in the system.

Since the backup image will be smaller and more manageable over time, some companies use this time to move to new, affordable disk-based backup and recovery options. Disk-based backup and recovery delivers significant benefits relative to recovery time, manageability and reliability. When you couple disk-based recovery with active archiving, you experience a significant increase in recovery and retrieval capability.

Archiving technology

There are many new technologies to help organizations integrate and align backup, recovery and archiving. For archiving, there are software tools that work with applications to find and move static data based on predetermined policies from the primary system to a second tier of storage. This leaves the information online to the application out of the daily backup window and on a lower-cost storage medium. Many customers see value from archiving e-mail and file-serving data. Database archiving and enterprise content management products can also move content out of the production environment.

Ideally, archive storage systems should offer functionality to support long-term data-retention requirements of active archives, easy scalability and management, and a lower total cost of ownership than the production environment. Advanced archiving platforms also offer guaranteed content authenticity, content location independence and built-in replication functionality.

Backup technology

There are many backup-to-disk software options that can improve performance and maximize the benefits of disk over tape. The best solutions should have high performance and proven functionality for recovering from mixed disk/tape environments.

The introduction of lower-cost Advanced Technology Attachment (ATA) disk drives has led to the creation of cost-effective, disk-based backup platforms of multiple flavors. Standard RAID systems with ATA drives can offer inexpensive solutions for backup and the flexibility to support other applications on the less-expensive drives. These systems work with advanced backup software that can use disk-based capacity for backup and recovery.

Another popular type of backup-to-disk architecture is an appliance that emulates tape libraries. These appliances allow you to maintain the processes and software you have today and generally offer advanced embedded functionality for compression, replication and simplified management.

Some companies have already deployed integrated backup, recovery and archiving. One regional bank needed a solution for fast, reliable enterprise recoverability while managing constant information growth -- without adding administrative overhead. The bank deployed archiving technology for policy-based extraction of check images to an active archive. The bank's fixed content is moved from its Fibre Channel storage to a lower-cost archival platform, which reduced the application's Tier 1 capacity by 80% and pushed growth to a less-expensive platform. Also, while data continues to grow at the rate of 30% a year, the bank's backups remain stable, since fixed content is automatically moved out of the backup environment. A backup-to-disk deployment allowed the bank to improve recovery time and better use its tape resources.

Integrating and aligning a backup, recovery and archive solution

To begin, companies must first understand what information is within their environments and where the biggest challenges are. Here are some questions to help get the process started:

  • What applications are most problematic in terms of backup, recovery and archive?
  • How much of your data in primary applications is static content that could be moved to an active archive?
  • For which applications do you need to retain data for long periods of time? Are there specific regulations to meet?
  • Which applications need to have the fastest recovery? How much downtime is allowable?
  • How much do you spend on tape media? And how much on management and off-site placement of that media? Could you spend some of that money on upgrading to an integrated disk-based environment for backup, recovery and archive?

Answering these questions requires planning, human capital, careful examination of business goals, and investment in equipment and software. This can be a complex undertaking and must be planned carefully. However, the advantages of deploying an integrated and aligned backup, recovery and archival solution can be significant. And the best thing to do is to start thinking about it.

Roy Sanford is the vice president of markets and alliances at EMC.

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