Getting started with database archiving

E-mail archiving gets a lot of the attention these days, but databases shouldn't be overlooked. Database administrators end up managing old and unchanging data within their production databases, so backups are constantly protecting data that hasn't changed.

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Archiving: Not just for e-mail

Database archiving can yield impressive results, including better application performance and more secure data.

DATABASE ADMINISTRATORS, I feel your pain. For the past few years, you've watched your messaging counterparts strutting around data centers waiting to read the latest headlines in The Wall Street Journal or hear what the talking heads on CNN were reporting. Almost every corporate scandal featured a "smoking gun" e-mail, which prompted regulators like the Securities and Exchange Commission to mandate that organizations treat e-mail as a business record.

Suddenly, message administrators had access to compliance officers, general counsels and internal auditors, and all their budget bucks were used to buy and deploy message management software such as e-mail archiving apps. So, database administrators, admit it; you were secretly hoping your turn would come and someone like CNBC superstar journalist Maria Bartiromo would uncover a corporate mess where financial records were deleted from a database because they were old and consumed expensive storage space, thus initiating a frenzy of spending on database management software.

But database honchos haven't had a "headline incident" that would propel them into the spotlight. And the corporate purse strings are tighter than ever, with the constant struggle to manage and store rapidly growing volumes of data despite stagnant budgets.

Coping with growing databases
As databases grow, the costs associated with keeping more information online could cripple IT. More database licenses, servers and storage capacity will be needed. These capital expenditures don't include the additional human resources that will be required to manage increasing data volumes. And if database data growth wasn't enough, many companies will upgrade their business apps, which will, in turn, increase the need for solutions to reduce the costs and risks associated with lengthy upgrade projects. Compliance with records-retention and information privacy regulations, as well as corporate governance policies, will require more precise management of enterprise data assets. The combination of data growth, regulatory impact and application upgrade cycles makes it imperative for organizations to find a way to manage their databases more efficiently.

At the Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), we refer to the process of data classification and management as intelligent information management. The key to intelligent information management is taking action against data after understanding its context. Database archiving, a critical information management task, can help IT move historical data off production systems and out of the critical path of daily processing. The data can be moved to lower cost or immutable storage, preserving it for regulatory or governance purposes.

Database administrators often leave old and unchanging data within production databases, so backups are constantly protecting data that hasn't changed. This lengthens backup windows and increases backup media costs. The problem is exacerbated as more new data is created and stored. Backup times continue to lengthen, and recovering these large databases can take hours or even days. As an alternative, IT can split databases, but that introduces greater complexity and additional management costs. Splitting a large database into smaller instances may temporarily reduce backup and recovery times, but it will require new servers, additional database licenses and management resources. If database and storage administrative groups don't address the increasing storage management challenges, they'd better plan on increasing their capital and operating budgets.

Performance and manageability
Database archiving software may actually provide an opportunity for storage administrators to help database administrators. Some companies are upgrading enterprise applications as recent vendor consolidations have provided opportunities to take advantage of newly introduced functionality, or to avoid the maintenance burdens and potential compliance risks associated with running unsupported applications. Database archiving software can help prepare for and mitigate the risk of an application upgrade by segregating a copy of data. New versions of the application can then be brought online to access the copied (archived) data. Older systems can still use production data, which eliminates the need to take the application down. The switchover to the newer version can happen as the database archives are updated and transitioned into production. In addition, database administrators can improve application performance by segregating historical data into an alternative data store without compromising data accessibility.

In January 2006, ESG asked approximately 500 IT professionals and records managers about their information archiving intentions. Nearly 30% of the respondents had deployed a database archiving software solution and are now realizing many of the compelling benefits of the technology.

When ESG asked early adopters of database archiving software what their deployment objectives were, 60% said they hoped to speed up database backups and 56% sought to improve database performance (see "Who's using database archiving apps," at right).

For many companies, the latest headlines surrounding information privacy are another motivating factor to evaluate database archiving applications. Information privacy breaches, such as the recent disclosure that the personal information of up to 26 million armed services veterans was lost, are creating nightmares for IT departments. With so much data residing in databases, database administrators must find ways to isolate and manage confidential information more effectively. Customers can use database archiving software to identify sensitive information, such as columns or rows that contain credit card numbers. This data can be masked during application testing or archived with suitable access controls when working with the appropriate database archiving product. These measures can reduce the risk of a security breach and facilitate compliance with existing and future information privacy regulations.

Database archiving software has two primary functions: removing data from the primary database and managing the information once it's been extracted. With several vendors offering database archiving products, including Clearpace Software, CopperEye, EMC, Hewlett-Packard (via its acquisition of OuterBay) IBM, Princeton Softech and Solix Technologies, users should evaluate a vendor's ability to identify, classify and manage database objects that span multiple tables. This enables users to archive specific database transactions as opposed to only being able to archive full tables. For example, an e-commerce retailer may have several data entries when a purchase order is received. The inventory, customer account and accounts receivable tables may all be updated as the result of a single purchase transaction. With the appropriate database archiving solution, administrators should be able to archive the transaction as opposed to each individual table.

Start small
Organizations may first deploy database archiving to address a single objective, such as reducing the time it takes to complete production database backups and then leverage the product's capabilities to achieve additional benefits. After reducing the production backup window, the next step may be to archive key revenue tables within a financial reporting application. These tables may be needed in an audit, but aren't required for IT to test the latest version of an order-entry application. Doing so segregates confidential data and maintains this information online for a specific subset of users, the auditors.

Databases may very well be the lifeblood of IT departments, solving a variety of problems from linking information sources to enabling online transaction processing. Database archiving is like a flu shot for databases--it's a proactive measure to manage data growth that mitigates the cost of keeping information online and accessible for longer periods of time.

This was first published in August 2006
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