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New backup techs need new thinking

New backup techs need new thinking

New technologies tend to bring some new baggage even as they solve old problems. Many of the newest storage technologies target backup, the perennial pain point for storage managers. Data protection techniques have made great strides in addressing this most troublesome part of storage administration, but with the cures come some side effects.

Applying a new backup technology is often more akin to plugging holes in a leaky dike than actually improving the process. And that's not surprising given the runaway data growth experienced by nearly all companies. Fixing something that's broken is--as Martha Stewart would say--a good thing. But it's an even better thing to adjust the rest of the environment to the new technology.

Vendors have been churning out new stuff designed to fix backup. Virtual tape libraries (VTLs), continuous data protection, wide-area file systems (WAFS) and single-instance storage are just a few examples. Disk-based backup technologies have already become an $8 billion market, according to a recent IDC study.

With each new technology deployed, there are new issues to consider. For example, encryption is a very effective way of safeguarding data at rest and is relatively easy to deploy as an appliance, software or in tape drive hardware. That's the easy part. Managing encryption keys is the tough part. Encryption reduces the risk of sensitive data falling into the wrong hands but, at the same time, it creates the need to develop a new set of processes and procedures to use it effectively.

Similarly, WAFS products can pull backup out of remote offices and yield better data protection and a lot less administration in remote offices. But adding WAFS means yet another element in the environment, so you'll have a learning curve and some new administrative tasks to deal with. And bandwidth, perhaps not much of an issue in pre-WAFS days, will need to be monitored closely.

VTLs can have an immediate--and often dramatic--impact on backup and maybe even conjure visions of a tapeless environment. But while VTLs effectively address tape's shortcomings, most users find that deep-sixing tape entirely isn't realistic. And getting your backup apps to play nicely within a disk-based backup environment might be a considerable task. You also need to consider if adding a VTL to your backup mix will affect backup software licensing. Vendors are beginning to address this issue, but it's not hard to imagine the savings realized from a VTL installation evaporating as software license fees soar.

I'm not suggesting that you avoid these new backup technologies. In fact, if you've been considering one or more of them, don't delay--your backup woes won't go away on their own. But understand that there's something of a domino effect when new techniques are introduced into data center operations.

It's also not uncommon for one new technology to spawn the need for yet another. A good example is data classification, which can be complex and may stretch the traditional boundaries of storage management. But even a simple classification system will make it possible to ensure that critical data is protected appropriately while the less important stuff isn't overprotected.

Those are just a few of the reasons why we're once again publishing a special issue of Storage that's dedicated solely to backup. Last year's edition reprised some of the best backup articles published to date. This year, we're going one better, with a Trends section, new columns and some new features to complement a few "classic" backup articles. Some readers told us that last year's compilation earned a permanent place on their bookshelves. We think this issue is even better. Drop me a line and let me know what you think.

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