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Backup - New Answers for an Old Question

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It seems every year someone publishes a list of the top issues in IT, and every year backup issues are right up there at the top of the list. After 20 years of working on backup products, I find it a little disconcerting that backup remains a major problem.

Maybe the problem is that we are still using the same approach we were using over 30 years ago. We keep trying to improve the process, but it’s not enough. Maybe it’s time to try a different tactic. We’ve been using the same model for years – copy all of your important data from disk to tape. We’ve improved upon this over the years by creating higher capacity tapes, faster tapes drives, and automated tape libraries. Of course at the same time we’ve also been creating faster and larger disk systems so most of the tape improvements have just been done to keep pace with the disks. And of course the backup applications have improved the ways they transfer data to tape to make sure the backups complete within a desired timeframe (a.k.a. the backup window). All of this works until the amount of data exceeds what can possibly be transferred within the time allotted. Incremental backups can address some of this, but not in every case and of course it introduces complexities later when it comes time to restore the data. Some users have switched to disk-to-disk or virtual tape backup solutions as an alternative. And while these can improve the mechanisms of the traditional tape backup, they do not fundamentally change the process. There is a quote from Benjamin Franklin that “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” If the old backup methods aren’t working, maybe it’s time for a different approach. Rather than trying to improve the traditional disk-to-tape backup model, the time has come to switch to a disk-to-disk model – the continuous data protection (CDP) model. CDP isn’t new technology; it’s been around for several years now so this isn’t a question of trying something new and risky. But most people view CDP as the other extreme – a real-time up-to-the-second copy of the data you want to protect. That level of protection is far beyond what traditional backup is capable of and far more than most users really need. But by using a modified CDP model, it’s possible to have backups done well within the backup window with the bonus of having several point-in-time recovery points per day. Using the same method traditional backup applications used to create consistent backups of active applications like databases and email servers, the CDP product can ensure these recovery points are also application consistent. But more than just improving backup, this method really improves recovery. In the traditional backup model, the user needs to restore a full backup and one or more incremental backups to a disk in order to make use of the backup. Because of this, most users never check that their backups are usable until absolutely necessary. And the last thing you want to discover when you need to restore data is that there was a problem with the backup (done days or weeks ago) and you don’t have everything you need. In the CDP model, the backed up data is already on a disk, so its readily available. That means you can check it anytime and know you that have a good backup. And since its already on a disk, you can copy it back to restore the data OR use the backed up image directly. CDP also lends itself to electronic vaulting from site to site. With all the news of lost tapes and worse – found tapes – in the news, why rely on a truck and/or plane when the data can be securely transmitted from the main data center to the disaster recovery site. Once the baseline image is established, it can take a relatively short time to send the dally changes to the remote location. For better protection, even hourly changes can be sent. And again, since the backup is already in a usable format, you can find out immediately if you’re in good shape should anything happen to the main data center. This is where the real value of CDP lies.  Backup is only done for the sake of recovering your data.  Having the ability to recover data faster (in minutes instead of hours) and being able to recover more of the data (up-to-the-hour rather than yesterday) means you're saving time.  And as everyone knows, time is money, and in these recent economic times, money is precious. All this is not to say that CDP should completely replace tape. Tape is still a very effective means of storing historic data for long periods of time. But that isn’t a backup function, that’s an archive function. With a focus on not just consistent backup protection but timely recovery, and the ability to reduce the amount of data at risk between backups, CDP is the right choice for more and more businesses. And in my humble opinion FalconStor® Continuous Data Protector (CDP) products are the ideal choice for anyone looking for this level of protection. The rules of backup are changing.  Don't you agreed it is time to change with them?

John Lallier

John Lallier

John Lallier is Falconstor's Vice President of Technology

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