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The millions of dollars thrown at backup solutions haven't cured the main problems of slow or failed restores, shrinking backup windows and backups running too slow or too long. Backup challenges are growing daily. New data retention, archiving and vaulting requirements go well beyond the midnight start time of backups some organizations are accustomed to.

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Analyzing your environment
To start identifying the right backup software product for your organization, implement a two-step process:

First, take a business focus. Start by identifying the requirements of your applications. For instance, a midtier organization with 500 end users and 30 to 40 servers may conclude a midtier backup software product would meet its needs. But if the mix of applications includes an online transaction processing (OLTP) application with an Oracle database backend that has no backup window, that midtier backup software solution by itself may or may not have the right features to accommodate that requirement. Conversely, a midtier environment that does primarily file services and observes business hours may find a low-end, low-cost backup software solution a perfect fit.

Second, inventory your current environment. Inventorying the existing backup software and hardware components comprises the other half of the equation to get a handle on the problem.

As challenging as this discovery process may seem for midtier and small groups, this process gets much more complicated in enterprises. These organizations frequently find themselves mired in an environment with competing backup solutions, no central backup administrator and management hoping the problem will cure itself without their intervention. Unfortunately, trying to gain consensus at the grass-roots level rarely works in these environments. Usually only decisive, informed recommendations coupled with a mandate at the executive level can straighten the backup software situation out.

Software vendors are well aware of this problem and backup software solutions exist for all organizational levels (see "Sizing up the software"). The major players in the backup software space (Computer Associates, EMC, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Legato Systems Inc., and Veritas) each bring different philosophies and techniques to the market on how to tackle backups. In addition, hardware vendors such as Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) and Network Appliance have products that complement or enhance the offerings from the major backup vendors.

Some of the major differentiators between the players include how each of these companies manages data and how their backup software performs backup. The major question for someone choosing a solution--of course--is how to pick a product that best fits into your storage infrastructure (see "Analyzing your environment," this page). What follows next is a short rundown of the major backup programs, along with a detailed matrix that lists the pros and cons of product features (see "Major product features").

IBM Tivoli Storage Manager
IBM's Tivoli Storage Manager (TSM) provides a backup software solution that most completely addresses multiple OS environments. TSM runs on the mainframe and open systems platforms, and its ability to manage different OS platforms through a single product will appeal to companies wishing to consolidate all of its backup software products.

The design of TSM differs from the other major products on the market. When TSM does an initial backup of a server, it does a full backup of the data. Once that initial full backup completes, TSM does what Patricia Jiang, technical attachÉ for Tivoli Software, calls progressive backups. Progressive backup is another way of saying: "First do a full backup, then incrementals forever." TSM tracks all new and changed data from the initial full backup and backs up only the changes to either disk or tape.

Jiang contends TSM provides two distinct advantages for end users--it uses substantially less tape resources because TSM reclaims disk or tape space when data expires by deleting it, and reuses the reclaimed space for new data. Despite these advantages, TSM requires a solid understanding of how the software works as well as a good grasp of the environment into which it will be deployed. Restores can be gruesome in TSM, but they can be gruesome with any backup software product.

The performance of any restore--TSM or otherwise--will largely hinge on the age and size of the file, the size of the tape library and even the number of tape drives in the tape library. All of these factors contribute to the time of the restore. But for enterprises that can execute and deploy TSM, it should generate significant savings when properly implemented and deployed.

This was first published in March 2003

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