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Will cloud backup services finally put tape backups in trash can?

The need for more inclusive backups and shorter recovery windows is driving companies to modernize their backup infrastructure

By , Network World
February 21, 2011 06:01 AM ET

Network World - Tape backup is dead. Long live tape backup.

The bane of many an IT pro's existence, tape backups have been around for decades, frustrating the folks who have to rotate the tapes, troubleshoot backup failures, ship the tapes to offsite locations, track down lost tapes, and deal with the aftermath of unreadable tapes.

While technologies exist to vastly improve backup and recovery processes, many companies have delayed modernizing their backup infrastructure. Now a confluence of factors - greater storage demands, the need for faster data recovery, and the availability of cloud-based backup services - is spurring action.

"Backup is really the insurance policy that you hope you never have to cash. As such, it's easy to skimp a little bit on that insurance policy," says Dave Russell, research vice president at Gartner.

Companies have been skimping for many years, and backup systems haven't kept pace with the rest of the IT environment. But the disparity is becoming impossible to ignore, particularly as the gap between business users' expectations of data recovery and the reality of recoverability widens. "The business believes that it's far more recoverable than it really is," Russell says.

One challenge is how to protect virtualized environments, which pose technical and performance difficulties for traditional backup systems. Another issue is how to protect and recover data created at the edge. More business critical-information is contained on laptops and tablets - which may not be backed up. If they are backed up, it might take 24 hours or more to get back the data, which may be more than a few days old depending on the frequency of device backups.

Disk or tape? How about both

The business isn't fully aware, and IT isn't entirely forthcoming, about all of the challenges. But that's changing.

"Increasingly, there's an understanding and an appreciation that we have to protect more of our assets - such as branch offices, remotes, desktops, laptops, even test and development data -- and that we have to be able to bring it back in a shorter amount of time," Russell says.

A virtual world

IT initiatives such as server virtualization and data center consolidation are highlighting the need to modernize backup and recovery systems. Virtualization, in particular, has disrupted traditional backup processes and forced companies to reconsider their approach.

One issue has to do with resource consumption and efficiency. "Taking a full backup copy of your data is incredibly resource intensive. It takes a fair amount of CPU, a fair amount of memory, and most importantly, a huge amount of I/O," Russell notes. "If you were to kick-off full backup simultaneously for six to eight virtual machines on a physical server, it would saturate all the available resources of that physical server."

Another issue is recoverability in a virtualized environment. In some cases a company might want to bring back a full virtual machine. But in a lot of cases, the "disaster" is localized, such as the loss of a file or a corrupt application, and a company may only want to restore that one file, for instance. That kind of granularity has been lacking. "Traditional backup has had a hard time peeking into the virtual machines just to get the data that's required," Russell says.

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