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According to a recent report from Dublin-based Research and Markets, improving efficiency is the No. 1 objective of IT spending plans. The idea of spending money to save money may seem a little odd but, if you think about it, any technology purchase should improve operational efficiency to some degree.

With spiraling storage growth, storage managers are more apt to spend their budgets to deploy technologies that do more to stem the tide than create a more efficient storage environment. It's a matter of survival rather than fine-tuning. And you can't blame them for being more tactical than strategic, as so many of the technologies they need to implement are point products.

Data protection is a good example. The parade of point solutions--continuous data protection (CDP), virtual tape libraries (VTLs), single-instance storage--goes on and on. They're all good technologies that address specific needs and can fix something that's broken in a shop's storage environment. But the issue isn't whether the products work or not, it's that adding one or more of them means still more tools in the storage arsenal to learn, administer, maintain and pay for.

It's even more frustrating when you consider that all of those technologies are designed to enhance backup. Backup is at or near the top of most storage managers' lists of the most time-consuming, resource-intensive storage operations, so only the most desperate are likely to add to that burden with

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a new technology that may have requirements beyond what the installed backup app needs. And it will almost certainly have a completely different interface.

Will your company's data be safer? Probably. But it's equally probable that the backup or storage operations staff will have more to do. It doesn't sound very efficient, even if the new app trims some time off the backup process.

Some vendors are working toward a remedy. Their interest is probably more self interest than compassion for harried storage managers, but the results are likely to be just as beneficial. On the surface, at least, the solution is simple: Instead of buying point solutions and then figuring out a way to cobble them together, how about a single interface the various technologies can plug into? Make it the backup app because it's the core of most companies' data protection processes.

So, if you want to add disk to your backup process with a VTL, you'd buy a VTL module, plug it in and stick it in front of the disk system of your choice. Some backup vendors offer this capability today. It makes sense, assuming the new functionality is integrated well--backup admins see a familiar interface, use familiar commands and can easily handle virtual tape as an integral part of backup.

CDP is compelling enough to gain plenty of interest: Instead of waiting to run big batch backup jobs overnight, just collect the data changes as they occur. A great idea, but not so brilliantly implemented as yet. A lot of shops are still admiring CDP from afar, enticed by its promise, but wary of long, disruptive implementations. CDP would be far more attractive--and practical--if it, too, could plug into a company's base backup app.

I recently spoke with John LoPorto, CEO of Breakthrough Systems in Lafayette, CO. I hadn't heard of Breakthrough, and I'll wager the name's new to you, too. LoPorto's company supplies software to most of the big storage companies, providing the underpinnings for things like VTLs and SCSI controllers. LoPorto sees the storage industry from the inside out, and he noted that a growing number of backup vendors are looking to add more advanced data protection capabilities to their apps. I hope he's right; for storage managers struggling to safeguard more data, that kind of relief couldn't come too soon.

This was first published in November 2006

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