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Finding a cure for your top 10 back(up) pains

Oh the pains of back-up -- and what pains they are. With data growing by leaps and bounds daily, backing up has taken on an increasingly complex role.

Liam Scanlan, of Bocada Inc., a storage management resource company based in Seattle, helps by diagnosing the biggest back-up pains he has come across while working with partners and customers over the past three years. Here's his top ten worst back (up) pains that nearly every storage administrator suffers through -- and remedies that will cure their back (up) ills.

1. Determining if backups were successful

In many cases, organizations rely on tedious spot-checking of log files to make a determination as to the success of their backups. As the volume of data, number of backup attempts, number of backup servers (and types of backup software) increases, so too does the volume of messages that an administrator needs to sift through increasing the likelihood of missing a critical message. In most scale organizations, especially with fewer resources available, this is practically impossible without appropriate tools.

2. Inability to prove compliance with enterprise policies

The renewed focus on business continuance and disaster recovery is further increasing organizations' aversion to risk, and pressuring enterprise managers to adopt storage policies that specify clear operational and business objectives for storage administrators and solutions.

Whether to meet service level commitments, audit requirements or disaster recovery plans, the need to gather the data necessary to prove that data storage operations are complying with these enterprise policies has never been more critical. At the same time, the size and complexity of the environment in addition to the time it takes to create reports, often makes an already daunting and unenjoyable task practically impossible.

3. Requiring greater reliability without additional resources or tools

A decade ago, the bulk of an organization's valuable data was kept locked up on mainframes and mini-computers. A company's books were closed on paper, and most key corporate assets were physical. Today, billion-dollar corporations often close their books using spreadsheets sitting on laptops. Many data elements have become so central to business success that if they are lost, the organization is exposed to millions of dollars of liability and lost business opportunity. As a result, system reliability and data recovery are more important, but remain elusive without the proper tools or massive investments in redundant systems.

4. Managing backups within available windows (determining throughput vs. resource constraints)

Data volumes are increasing faster that the ability to move data to tape or even disk. It is difficult to determine whether more resources need to be added (servers, network bandwidth, storage devices) or to determine unidentified bottlenecks in the existing system. The larger the organization the more difficult it is to solve this problem.

5. Environment complexity and volatility is killing system reliability

One reason open systems are attractive is that they allow customers to take advantage of many companies' specializations in one overall system. While this promotes flexibility and the ability to implement the right point solution for the right business problem, the resulting complexity and lack of interoperability wreaks havoc with backup operations. Consequently, administrators must manage through an increasingly dense and diverse jungle of applications, networks, operating platforms, security devices, and file systems just to move data from the primary to secondary storage. Even redundant attempts cannot correct some of the systemic issues that prevent successful backups and recoveries in these environments.

6. I cannot track activity, costs to charge for backup services or justify my budget requests

Each backup attempt costs real money and takes real administrative time. However, it is practically impossible in most large environment to identify the specific source of backup demand (e.g., the marketing group's MP3 files), or bill for services rendered. It is also difficult to justify budget requests for additional headcount or storage resources without quantitative data to support the request.

7. Increasing data complexity means higher % must be restored for restore to work

A decade and a half ago, the kind of data being backed up on open systems was not very sophisticated, basically work processing, rudimentary email folders and basic applications. Today's applications are vastly more dependent on complete data sets just to operate, let alone provide the intended value. Increased data interdependence means that missing even a single system file could invalidate the whole database or make recovery all but impossible. For example, if the sales order header table cannot be recovered, it may invalidate the entire order processing module of the database. Add huge and ever changing volumes of data, and the requirements for reliable backup grow exponentially, as do the risks and costs of failure.

8. I have little ability to predict and plan for future requirements

The lack of transparency into the specific resources being consumed in total and by source makes it difficult for administrators to spot trends, plan for future requirements and prove to the budget owners what resources are required to accomplish the required tasks. We often hear: "Just make sure that all our data is recoverable, but don't ask for any more resources (money, people), unless you can empirically prove the need." The most common empirical proof is catastrophic backup failure ultimately proving too late that more resources really were required.

9. Too few people to manage too much data

Budget cuts have forced companies to make tough decisions. Almost invariably valuable IT resources are lost, taxing the remaining experts to their limits.

10. Throw equipment at it (but unfortunately not bodies)

Whether redundancy to overcome perceived reliability issues or new equipment to overcome apparent resource limitations, organizations often install more and more equipment to compensate for the lack of visibility into their infrastructure. The result is not just higher capital expenditures, but also exponentially higher administrative costs resulting from managing more assets and a more complex and volatile environment.

Liam will be in the searchStorage 'Storage Management Tips & Tricks' forum to discuss your back-up pains and learn how to solve them during a searchStorage online discussion day event. Check below for more information:

Title: "Easing the pains of backup and recovery"

Speaker: Liam Scanlan, Vice President of Product Development & Customer Support, Bocada, Inc.

When: 12-5 pm EST, Thursday, February 28th


The volume of data, system complexity and volatility and demand for backup continue to grow exponentially, while available resources continue to shrink. The result is a rapid increase in reliability and efficiency issues that is stressing many storage administrators to their limits and beyond. If these issues sound like issues that plague you join Bocada's Liam Scanlan for a forums discussion aimed at easing the pains of backup and recovery.

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