Backup gets a boost: Hot Spots


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Backup vendors benefit from snapshot and dedupe technologies. You can, too.

Three new technologies--snapshot, continuous data protection (CDP) and deduplication--are making their way into traditional backup products at a time when the market is demanding more efficient, less-costly solutions.

There are several drivers for this optimization. First, unabated data growth continues to stress backup infrastructures. Capacity requirements for secondary storage are burdening backup and disaster recovery (DR) budgets. The time needed to perform backup operations is simply unworkable for many organizations, even when disk-to-disk strategies are applied. Key business apps such as corporate messaging systems and ecommerce portals require uninterrupted access. And performing a reliable backup may mean taking active systems offline. As a result, minimizing downtime and the amount of data lost in a recovery event (recovery point objective or RPO) are at the top of many organizations' to-do lists.

Backup vendors have made some strides in moving advanced technologies into the mainstream. For example, snapshot and CDP technologies are being integrated with backup platforms. Similarly, data deduplication, deployed in target storage systems, is becoming an embedded feature in backup applications. These developments have increased the backup vendors' value proposition and may

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even call into question the need for supplementary vendors' technologies in many cases.

Snapshot software, as its name suggests, represents an image of the data as it appeared at the time the copy was initiated and creates a usable copy of it. The interval between snapshots determines the level of granularity for restore; the smaller the interval, the fewer changes to the data.

Snapshots address a few of the primary challenges mentioned earlier, including backup window, recovery time objective (RTO) and RPO. By creating a snapshot copy of the data, a file-level backup to disk or tape can be accomplished outside of the backup window, minimizing the impact on the production environment. This is the concept behind VMware Consolidated Backup (VCB) in server virtualization environments and Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS) in Microsoft Windows environments. Snapshots also enable the capture of open files in active systems, such as messaging systems, databases and running virtual machines.

Snapshots offer the advantage of providing the first level of recovery: rapid restore for aggressive RTOs. They also provide an encapsulation of data. When combined with offsite replication, DR requirements are addressed. RPOs can stretch from one minute to several minutes or one hour to several hours, depending on the capture interval selected. When data needs to be restored, the snapshot for the desired point in time is located and recovered.

Users may leverage this approach as a wholesale replacement for file-level backup or as an additional layer of protection. Because most backup vendors offer some built-in support for snapshot, either approach is feasible. Integration with the backup policy engine and interface simplifies management. Improvements, such as incremental snapshot, data deduplication and the ability to directly recover an individual item from a snapshot backup, make this approach more practical.

Research from the Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) has found that snapshots are the most widely implemented advanced technology for backup, with 51% of survey respondents--small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), as well as enterprise organizations--employing snapshot solutions. Twenty-six percent of all respondents have plans to deploy this technology in the next 12 months to 24 months, with varying degrees of urgency in the SMB and enterprise camps.

This was first published in August 2008

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