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Disaster recovery: More affordable, better tools for all

Faster, less expensive backup technology will allow enterprises of all sizes to do real DR planning and implementation.

The process of planning for disaster recovery won't change all that much in the next five years, most observers agree. At the same time, though, the tools used to back up data and ensure its recoverability will continue to get better.

As an upshot, recovering from a major disaster -- whether of the natural or man-made variety -- will become easier, faster and less expensive for companies of all sizes. "Small- to medium-sized companies will become more interested in disaster recovery," says Dianne McAdam, an analyst at Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, N.H.

Until now, disaster recovery (DR) has been mostly the purview of larger companies. "It's pretty much been considered a luxury," says Arun Taneja, a senior analyst at the Enterprise Storage Group in Milford, Mass. And even here, "most" DR plans "consist of sending their tapes offsite -- just in case -- and hoping they never need to use them," says Curtis Preston, founder of independent consultancy The Storage Group, based in Oceanside, Calif.

Even among the DR-savvy companies, things aren't necessarily bulletproof, analysts say. Some eight out of ten companies have "never really done a recovery, so they have no idea if what they're backing up is, in fact, recoverable," Taneja says.

Many of these problems will eventually disappear, observers note. With the advent of less expensive, faster disk-to-disk backup solutions, companies large and small will benefit, McAdam says. The difference is that larger companies will likely use synchronous replication, whereas smaller companies will go for the asynchronous variety. In synchronous backup, data is mirrored exactly from the local site to the offsite backup location in real-time or on a calendared backup schedule. With asynchronous backup, the backup system is generally a few volumes behind the live system, but it's "close enough" for most small and medium-sized companies to recover from disasters, she adds.

The major benefit of these disk-to-disk systems is that "it will be a lot easier to recover if your data is available, without having to load tape to find it," says Dan Tanner, a senior analyst with the Aberdeen Group in Boston.

McAdam says that the business impact of September 11 extended to companies realizing that their backup data centers were sometimes too close to their main data center. In some cases, companies based in Tower 1 of the World Trade Center had their backup facilities in Tower 2 or vice versa, according to Preston. "So companies are extending the distances between their data centers," McAdam says.

Preston suggests that "a number of technologies" -- including better replication software, less expensive storage devices and better connectivity -- are all coming together to make possible the notion of replication to a live hot site. Also, he says, "IDE-based Fibre Channel disk arrays offer companies a really cheap way to replicate offsite."

Less expensive, simpler backup products are also coming to market, some of which will have more built-in intelligence, Taneja says. "Let's say we're in a 100-person company. All changes to every file can be time-stamped, and then just the changes are forwarded off-premises" to a backup facility, either in real-time or on a pre-set schedule.

The promise of this, for smaller companies, is that "you can set up and go about your business, and things will happen in the background to protect you," Taneja explains.

The other change will be that instead of end-users having to go to an IT person and beg for IT to recover an accidentally deleted file, the business person can get that file online himself. "That's not a major disaster scenario, but I don't think we should be talking just about that," Taneja says. "If you've got 100 people in the company and a number of them are asking the IT guy to get files back that they accidentally erased, then that's a major productivity drain." Enabling end-users to recover their own files frees up the IT person to do other things, he says.

Avamar Technologies, in Irvine, Calif., Topio in Menlo Park, Calif., and StorageTek, among others, have recently introduced disk-to-disk solutions, or will soon do so.

Taneja, a big fan of disk-to-disk solutions, says that tape as a backup technology won't disappear any time soon. Tape will still be where most enterprises store the information that they deem not immediately mission-critical but still needed. Still, he says, the cost and performance of some upcoming disk-to-disk solutions make them as good or better alternatives than disk-to-tape.

"The cost is close enough to make it feasible," he says. "The wave is just starting. Until now, disaster recovery has been a brute-force phenomenon and available only to the bigger companies. Now the convergence of technologies and declining cost are making it feasible to go to Chapter Two of disaster recovery."


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