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Hot Spots: The case for unified data management platforms

A unified data management and recovery platform can improve performance, decrease complexity and costs, and make all copies of data more useful and accessible for electronic discovery purposes

Consolidating your data protection platforms and practices should be at the top of your 2008 to-do list.

Organizations spend a lot of time making copies of data to minimize risk and improve business continuity. Considering the amount of data retained on primary storage in addition to backup copies, offsite replicas and archived content, management of an organization's data repositories can be a daunting task. This is especially true if every copy is initiated through different processes, applications or management interfaces. Fortunately, many vendors are now offering unified data management platforms aimed at relieving the capacity and management headaches prevalent when point solutions are deployed in the data center. A unified data management and recovery platform can improve performance, decrease complexity and reduce costs, in addition to making all copies of data more useful and accessible for electronic discovery purposes.

Factors driving convergence
In the past, data protection was backup-centric. Snapshot and replication--usually array based--was used only for critical applications. Backup was executed on a schedule, which meant that 24 hours' worth of data could be lost on recovery (recovery point objective or RPO) and it could take anywhere from several hours to a few days to perform a recovery from tape (recovery time objective or RTO).

Today, the financial viability of leveraging disk within a data protection schema is driving change. Disk alleviates the burden on the backup/recovery window by creating performance and reliability efficiencies in backup and, more importantly, recovery. Recovery-centric strategies that offer combinations of backup, replication, snapshot and continuous-capture technologies are emerging. The lower cost of disk, coupled with legal discovery and regulatory mandates, has helped to increase the interest in disk-based digital archiving, data classification, index and search. Bandwidth has also become more affordable for many organizations, so moving data between sites--whether for consolidating backups from remote sites or storing replicas at secondary locations for disaster recovery (DR)--has become more practical.

It makes sense that technologies that promise to reduce the volume of data transferred and stored (through data deduplication and single-instance storage) are becoming more popular. A recent Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) study found that only 10% of organizations surveyed use single instancing and 16% use block-level data deduplication; however, 44% plan to use single-instance storage in the future and 32% say the same for block-level data deduplication.

Due to recent amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP), organizations are under increasing pressure to manage and retrieve data more effectively. Companies need to be prepared for electronic discovery by knowing what content is stored and how much effort is required to recover it, as well as how to properly preserve and produce the content as evidence in litigation events. Today, archiving software can make it easier and faster to retrieve data. Archive solutions also provide the capability to set and enforce retention times, which facilitates compliance with record-retention and legal preservation requirements.

It's important to note that many of the data management solutions are merging data protection technologies with archiving. Through a single management interface, organizations can dictate policies for data sets that define RTO, RPO (i.e., frequency of copies), retention, capacity reduction, security, disposal and more.

Users crave consolidated data management
A sound data protection strategy depends on the optimal recovery of data. The inability to recover data rapidly--or at all--can translate into financial losses and possibly impact operational, customer service and compliance objectives. Too often, IT organizations are focused solely on the backup component of a data protection strategy or are content to rely on what's comfortable, even if it's not ideal. To their detriment, these organizations continue to execute data protection strategies that will fail when recovering data. For example, many IT organizations have treated backup, DR and archiving as separate activities (each with its own requirements and solutions) or have used tape backup as a cheap (but not always appropriate) solution for all three.

Employing a mix of traditional and emerging technologies to satisfy different levels of downtime and data loss tolerance is a popular approach. But there are drawbacks to procuring, installing and managing multiple point solutions. With multiple point solutions from a variety of vendors, there's more than one management interface, policy engine and client-side agent to learn and use. Systems don't share storage resources or integrate with each other. This results in multiple copies of data to store and manage, more complexity and greater management overhead.

Best-of-breed strategies are often adopted to meet specific needs. For some organizations, the potential management headache is tolerable because they're getting a more robust feature set or more responsiveness to their requirements from individual vendors. The need to distribute risk also causes IT to select products from multiple vendors.

ESG research found that more organizations would like to consolidate data management. Eighty percent of respondents are more likely to standardize on one vendor for all aspects of the data protection process rather than implement best-of-breed solutions from multiple vendors. The vendor they would most likely use to support all of their data protection processes is their backup software vendor.

There are a number of significant benefits to unifying these functions into a data management platform:
    • By tightly integrating the functionality required to effectively manage data, organizations can significantly decrease complexity, improve performance, and reduce capital and management/administrative costs.

    • A central policy engine in a unified approach helps to reduce risk by enabling organizations to more effectively protect critical data and adhere to regulatory compliance and service-level agreements.

    • Unification also helps organizations better utilize resources throughout the data lifecycle, including reducing the amount of data being backed up (which reduces the cost of disk and tape storage) and moving data to an appropriate tier of storage based on its value to the organization at any time.

    • IT organizations gain better visibility across data management functions, especially with integrated reporting.

  • A common index and federated search allows end users to access multiple data sources with a single query through a single interface, enabling faster, more comprehensive search.

Unified approaches a reality
The emergence of unified data management platforms is well underway. Several backup vendors have developed fully integrated, multifunction products and many others are federating point solutions (mainly through acquisition and integration) by delivering unified agents, policy engines, and common services and storage repositories.

Most storage vendors are combining multiple data protection solutions in their portfolio. Better yet, several vendors offer a single, more complete, integrated product. For example, vendors such as CommVault, EMC, Hewlett-Packard and IBM offer integrated backup and archiving. BakBone Software, CA and CommVault brought backup and replication together. Implementing continuous capture as a feature of backup is available with Asigra, CommVault and Symantec. Similarly, several vendors--including Asigra, CommVault, EMC, EVault (a Seagate company), IBM and Symantec--offer data deduplication as a feature of backup.

Data management technology will continue to mature and evolve. Governance, risk and compliance mandates will continue to dictate how IT organizations deal with their data. The convergence trend going on today is contributing improvements to data protection and management. With functional solutions being tightly integrated into unified data management platforms, IT organizations are benefiting from better recovery objectives, less complexity and potentially lower management costs.

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