New backup tools for you

Monitoring backups has always been one of those unglamorous IT chores. Over the last several years, however, numerous vendors have taken backups from boring to remarkable as they roll out heterogeneous backup-management tools that perform so many new functions.

Spun off from the broader storage-resource management market, these tools monitor and report on backups across multiple vendors' backup products. In doing so, they can ease the auditing process. They create a way to implement chargeback programs for backups. They let network executives offer and verify service-level agreements for backups, and more.

Heterogeneous backup-management tools are available from various niche vendors including Aptare, Bocada, CommVault and WysDM Software, as well as such infrastructure vendors as EMC and Symantec. An enterprise might be running EMC's Legato Networker, IBM's Tivoli Storage Manager and Symantec's Veritas Backup Exec, but with backup-management software, an IT administrator can get an at-a-glance, big-picture look at what's happened with all those operations from a single console, in real time and historically.

Some vendors take a traditional client/server approach to backup management. An example is EMC's Backup Advisor, in which agents sit on production servers, and backup hosts feed system information into the backup-management server residing on the network.

More typical is the agentless approach, favored by Bocada, WysDM and others, in which backup-management software gathers statistics through scheduled polling. These tools are getting ever more sophisticated. Recently, start-up Illuminator released Virtual Recovery Engine (VRE), which coordinates reporting of backup applications and other data-protection technologies. In addition, the software associates that information with the application data, so IT executives get an easy view of the backups connected to every data set, says Yishay Yovel, a vice president with the vendor.

The initial release provides interfaces to storage arrays and point-in-time copying, replication and backup applications from EMC and Network Appliance.

Better Service for SLA Management

Given the rise of the dynamic, open New Data Center, products that provide a centralized, heterogeneous view of the data-protection infrastructure are a huge boon. Suddenly, monitoring SLAs is a lot easier.

WysDM for Backups software, for example, uses a predictive-analysis engine to spot potential SLA problems. The engine learns the normal behavior patterns of the data-protection infrastructure, then flags discrepancies, says Jim McDonald, CTO and co-founder of WysDM Software, one of the pioneers in heterogeneous backup management.

For example, if the engine notices the backup of financial data is taking five minutes longer each night, WysDM for Backups could notify IT that if it doesn't address the situation, it will fall out of SLA compliance in X amount of time. Another example: the engine might notice the absence of a nightly 3GB-file-system backup. Because that doesn't fit normal behavior -- and could put IT out of SLA compliance -- the software would issue an alert, he says. "This is the difference between just having technical output of backup information and providing business protection."

Steve Frewin, storage administrator for TD Banknorth, a banking and financial-services company in Portland, Maine, and wholly owned subsidiary of the TD Bank Financial Group, says he is using backup-management functions within Symantec's broader Command Central Service software for a daily health check. That differs from what he had to do in the old days when a server didn't complete its backup within SLA windows: gather the backup's parameters manually.

Having the historical perspective also helps him provide better advice when IT administrators ask how additional data volume would affect the backups. "I can now say, well, we're just barely meeting that SLA now, if you add [100 gigabytes], that's going to be a problem," he says. "Before, all I could say was, 'Well, I think we're out of room' -- that doesn't go far with management."

With these tools, auditing and compliance become painless, some users say. That seems to be the case at Catholic Healthcare Partners (CHP), which uses Bocada's Bocada Enterprise to manage its backup operations and ease audits. "We use Bocada to print reports and say, 'Here you go -- it's done.' We can customize reports to auditors' needs, and that's so much easier than writing long SQL statements to gather the information," says Brian Witsken, the lead storage-management systems engineer for the 30-hospital, non-profit healthcare system.

Bocada, one of the first vendors to offer a heterogeneous backup reporting tool, has more than 400 enterprises using its software. According to Nancy Hurley, a vice president with the company, 75 percent of those users say Bocada reports are essential in helping them pass audits.

Illuminator also pitches itself as an antidote for auditing headaches. With VRE, users can recover application data on request and show exactly what assets are in place and how the data is protected. It also shows the processes in place to fix any problems that occur in the data-protection environment. And if a company can show how well organized it is about its compliance processes, "who knows, then maybe next time the auditor won't even ask [about the processes] and instead just agree to look at the reports," Illuminata's Yovel says.

Getting A Charge Out of Backups

While that remains to be seen, heterogeneous backup-management software is turning into a salve for many other enterprise pain points. Take chargeback and billing, for example. Because the tools provide an enterprise view and offer customizable reporting, it's much easier for IT executives to figure out whose data is taking up how much backup space.

At CHP, Witsken intends to use a new reporting capability in the latest version of Bocada's backup-management software to institute a chargeback program for backup storage, he says. Because Bocada Enterprise 5.0, which began shipping recently, reports on server occupancy, Witsken will be able to use it for an at-a-glance view of how much data each business unit is occupying on the backup storage system, he says.

"We are responsible for a certain amount of data. So, if we set total occupancy on our server at [1TB]; anything over that we will be able to charge back to the customer," Witsken says, noting that CHP hopes to have a chargeback program implemented within six months.

At TD Banknorth, Frewin says centralized backup reporting has slashed the time it takes him to run a monthly virtual chargeback report from three days to a half-hour. While he doesn't use the reports for billing, he says they are critical in helping him understand the data center demographics. "The reports help me figure out on an annual basis what it costs to maintain the data-protection infrastructure and to assess how the business units are using those resources," he says.

Those assessments are quite useful for planning, Frewin says. "The reports highlight who my big users are, and so if I have a change that's coming up or some other data-center activity, I know to look at the resources for those users first because they're the hardest to move. This doesn't necessarily mean they're any more or less important than others, but if you've got a job that runs longer, it's harder to move," he adds.

With the trend, use and volume reports he gets from his Command Central software, Frewin says he acts proactively rather than reactively. He also is beta-testing a stand-alone backup manager: Symantec's recently introduced Veritsas Backup Reporter. The specialty software should give him more advanced reporting capabilities than the broader SRM package and help him grapple better with the company's capacity planning needs, Frewin says.

TD Banknorth is expanding its business rapidly, increasing its territory, customer base and types of services offered. As the business has grown, Frewin says he has witnessed 130 percent year-over-year growth in data backups.

"With a growth curve like that, I have to be able to plan when I'm going to need more equipment, know what backup windows are available, and readily put a finger on problems in the data protection and backup environment. I couldn't just write scripts manually like I used to do," he says.

Better troubleshooting also was a selling point about backup-management software for Peter Amstutz, chief of network design for the Defense Contact Management Agency (DCMA), in Fairfax County, Virginia. "We wanted to take as much of the human element out of backups as possible," he says.

For that, he selected backup-management software from CommVault, CommNet Service Manager (until recently named QNet Service Manager).

Sophisticated backup management was a must if the agency was to benefit fully from its move from tape backups to disk, Amstutz says. That 100 percent migration -- unusual as a full-out tape replacement -- occurred over four months beginning in October 2005. Today, two 64TB Network Appliance NearStore R200 Advanced Technology Attachment disk arrays house backup data at the agency's two main US data centers, which support 11,000 users.

Data is replicated for off-site backups using NetApp's SnapMirror software, and backed up locally on disk using CommVault Galaxy. As of this spring, Mimosa Systems' NearPoint continuous data-protection software handles backups for the agency's Microsoft Exchange environment, Amstutz says. "We set QNet up so that if any jobs fail, it notifies a local administrator. If a job fails more than three times, then it notifies a larger group, including supervisors. That's been quite effective," Amstutz says. A year into the new backup scenario, "we have just one person, on a very part-time basis, monitoring and controlling the entire backup infrastructure from one location," he adds. Previously, DCMA spent eight hours a week on average just handling tapes, he says.

Peace of Mind

Perhaps the biggest benefit, however, is the peace of mind centralized, heterogeneous backup management brings. As Amstutz says: "I can certainly say that our backups are a lot more reliable now. Before we overhauled the backup infrastructure, we were very uncertain as to whether things were getting backed up at all -- and in some cases, we found that they actually weren't. Now we know for sure."

This story, "New backup tools for you" was originally published by CIO.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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