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Those annoying backups could be a big data resource

A lot of storage managers wish backup would go away — or at least become a much less visible process that’s built into apps or storage systems, does its thing automatically, and requires little or no management. But two backup vendors, with very different products and equally divergent approaches to backing up enterprise data, may demonstrate how dreaded backups can turn out to be key components in a practical approach to big data analytics.

CommVault Systems Inc. is a well-established backup software company and Actifio Inc. is a three-year-old startup. Both vendors aim to consolidate the many copies of production data that most companies create for backup, disaster recovery (DR), analysis, testing and other purposes, to help cut down on the amount of physical storage required to accommodate all those copies and the confusion that’s inevitable when there are so many copies of data floating around an environment.

For Actifio, this consolidation is its core proposition. Its Protection and Availability Storage (PAS) platform makes a single copy of production available to other applications or disciplines for typical backup restores, DR operations or any other activity that requires a copy of the production data. But rather than spawning multiple physical copies, Actifio’s appliance presents virtual copies to the requesting applications and then manages the data accordingly.

CommVault’s Simpana suite of data protection and management apps may resemble a more traditional backup app, but it actually leverages a common platform for backup, archiving, replication, endpoint protection and other data management operations. Besides acting like a Swiss Army knife for data protection, Simpana consolidates the data it manages from its various components as a single entity called the ContentStore. Data in the ContentStore can be indexed and searched, and policies can be applied to define retentions.

Because both of these products are used primarily to protect the most recently created or modified data across the enterprise, their repositories may very well be the most complete collection of corporate data available. And because the data was deposited by a backup, archive or other data-aware application, it’s not just faceless data — it carries some attributes in its metadata that provide context to give the raw data meaning. It wouldn’t be all that tough to add even more context by tapping into Active Directory, Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) or other directory services; in some cases, the originating applications may be able to provide additional metadata.

Rather than just amassing and managing collections of dumb backup data, you can create a useful pool of information that enables and enhances access by dint of its origins and how it’s been managed. It’s almost a ready-made big data resource; and if it’s searchable, as with CommVault’s ContentStore, gleaning the most appropriate datasets for analysis from the pool could end up a relatively easy part of the big data process.

CommVault and Actifio are good examples of how a platform and consolidation approach to data protection can yield additional benefits and make copied data a more valuable resource — and other vendors are on the same path with product roadmaps. Data protection has always been a laborious and often complex process, but those efforts and the associated expense may offer a bigger payoff after all.

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