Disaster recovery taken to heart

If there’s one trend highlighted in a recent survey that everyone should take to heart, it is this: business continuity, taking adequate measures to recover storage equipment from a disaster, has become part of a CTO’s daily life and is no longer an afterthought or a placebo to pacify questioning auditors.

Although not all survey respondents are flying the disaster recovery flag, an overwhelming majority — nine out of 10 — has already cemented a disaster recovery plan for storage equipment or will have one in place within the year. These IT leaders are reacting to the ubiquitous threat of political terrorism, which joins the ranks of an already exceedingly long list of dangers including natural disasters, utility grid failures, catastrophic accidents, and human errors.

As the centrepiece of any business continuity plan, protecting storage equipment and company data from disruption requires a thoughtful blending of storage administration, risk assessment, and data protection activities. Survey respondents are tuned into that nugget of wisdom — 60 per cent of the IT leaders we polled are involved in both defining disaster recovery procedures and purchasing storage solutions.

It may be stating the obvious, but the most effective way to preserve critical company data is to create copies, either online or on backup media, in case the original becomes corrupted or unavailable; this implies a need to stock up on additional storage devices to host those replicas. As a result, developing proper backup and disaster recovery strategies is the driving factor for new storage acquisitions among survey respondents, with backup projects ranking first at 69 per cent of respondents and disaster recovery third at 57 per cent (the latter is slightly behind the voracious requirements of hosting e-mail databases). A speedy data recovery is essential to getting your company quickly back in business after a failure. Also, if your backup copies are spread across different media formats, rebuilding the online databases can be more time-consuming and complicated.

When it comes to the media that respondents are using or planning to use for their backup chores, they prefer established formats that offer more capacity and performance. Quantum DLT (digital linear tape) and Super-DLT cartridges are used by 58 per cent of respondents, who seem to appreciate the performance, capacity, and backward-compatibility of that line of tape drives. Moving down the food chain to more compact media, 27 per cent of respondents have deployed 4mm tapes and a good 20 per cent use the 8mm Sony AIT (advanced intelligent tape). Only a small percentage of respondents have chosen the LTO (linear tape open) or other tape technologies. But the real scoop is that a whopping 37 per cent, the second largest group, have already deployed some form of online backup using disk drives rather than cartridges as media, and 24 per cent plan to deploy a similar disk-based backup solution within the year.

It’s fair to infer from these statistics that IT managers are pairing traditional tape-based backup devices with faster and more flexible disk arrays that also reduce the possibility of operating errors (because there’s no manual handling of media) and faster restore time. Moreover, this trend indicates a departure from a persistent (and altogether confused) belief that archive copies and temporary duplicates of data have the same requirements. There is a big difference between a copy of a database, such as the general ledger database, made before major software updates and a copy made at year-end book-closing. The former has a short lifespan and more pressing recovery timing that are better served by a disk-based solution, while its regulations-mandated, longer retention time make the latter a proper candidate for tape storage.

When we asked survey respondents if they had short-term plans to deploy nearline storage solutions to simplify their backups and speed their restores, the answer was yes from 65 per cent of respondents, which essentially confirms and extends the disk-based backup trend emerging from responses to the previous question.

Fast data recovery is essential for any business recovery process because it minimises the worst consequences of downtime, including a tarnished image and financial losses for your company. However, protecting data with fast online backups does not prevent disruptions such as those caused by a failing server. If your data is on storage devices that are tightly wired to that machine, a lengthy recovery can still take its dreadful toll on your business.

To achieve the greatest flexibility and fastest data recovery, your servers and your storage devices should be in different boxes and accessed via a network rather than inflexible connections such as SCSI cables. Inevitably, the subject of storage recovery leads to a networked storage solution such as SAN and NAS. The networked storage approach may be more expensive, but it offers an undeniable advantage: A broken, data-less server can be easily and quickly replaced with a standby unit that accesses the same data of its clone over the network.

That simple truth did not escape our respondents, 75 per cent of whom concur that improved backup and disaster recovery capabilities are the main motivations of their SAN project, whereas 71 per cent give the same indication for their NAS deployment.

When it comes to business continuity and backup recovery strategies, the 2003 Storage Survey respondents draw their own, inescapably logical, conclusions: data recovery must be an integral part of the storage system design and fortified with resilient, flexible technologies such as disk-based backups and networked storage.

CTOs should conduct critical reviews of their infrastructure and suggest technical improvements that maximise data recovery and storage flexibility. Deploying networked storage and defining businesswide data recovery strategies should be top priorities.

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