Q&A: Backup challenges

Stephen Aldous is a technical specialist on all of Iron Mountain Digital’s solutions providing prospects and customers with in-depth consulting and technical knowledge. In this interview he discusses backup.

Based on your experience, what are the top 5 challenges organizations face when dealing with backup?
Typically when we speak to CIO’s, CTOs and IT managers we find that it is not just backup that they are looking for. They may be looking for a disaster recovery solution should the unthinkable happen, or they want to archive data for compliance reasons or to simply move inactive data off their primary storage. In the past, tape-based backup was the standard answer to all three of these requirements, however the following challenges have changed the way a business has to deal with the seemingly mundane task of backup:

1. Data volumes have exploded, both on the end users’ PCs and laptops as well as on local or remote file servers. The task of backing up a few hundred gigabytes of data has suddenly expanded to needing to protect terabytes or even petabytes of data on a daily basis. Moving such large volumes of data over a company network to reach the backup server has forced organizations to look at increasing bandwidth or to place multiple backup servers around their sites at hub locations, to minimize cross-network traffic but this also increases management costs.

2. Taking the data offsite, to protect against a disaster situation and enable the company to recover their data to a new location if needed. Once again tape-based backup was seen as the solution. While tape backup still can play a role in an organization’s backup strategy, the nature of how it’s used is changing as it can be slower, less reliable due to the nature of tape media, needs to be managed and maintained, and typically the data written to these tapes is not encrypted.

3. Backup windows are ever decreasing, and sometimes are non-existent. With the increasing population of remote workers, people in different time zones and people working out of hours has resulted in IT no longer being able to stop that database for a few hours to allow a backup, or to keep systems performing for the users whilst the backup process is trying to run at the same time. This applies both to centralized servers as well as users PCs and Macs. How to backup these systems and not impact the user or require involvement from the user?

4. Compliance – each year new regulations come into effect forcing companies to comply with data retention policies. From 12 months to 7+ years, organizations have to find a way to effectively store their GB/TB/PB of data somewhere.

5. Static or Inactive data needs to be treated differently to active data. If I want to provide a disaster recovery solution to my business, I need to be looking to recover the active data as fast as I can (the RTO – Recovery Time Objective) from as close to the time the disaster took place (the RPO – Recovery Point Objective). So I may want to protect that data near-continuously (every 15 mins), but why would I want to pay the premium to protect my inactive data in the same way? How does a company go about managing and protecting their data differently.

There’s a lot of talk about migrating to the cloud for backup needs. However, in that scenario another company has your data and it may be inaccessible at an essential moment. What are the pros and cons of backing up in the cloud?
Whilst what you are saying is true, let’s not forget that companies who store their tapes off site with a 3rd party are in the same situation. Any reputable company who has been offering cloud services for a long time should have multiple ways a customer can recover their data. Who knows what the disaster may be, so there needs to be many options for recovering the data, including both online, media shipments (tape, CD, DVD) and shipments of storage devices enabling customers the flexibility to recover in the best way that suits their situation. Cloud services enables these multiple options to be available; tape-based backups often don’t, and in addition cloud services can be more secure than tapes, so I can’t really think of any cons to backing up in the cloud.

How have backup technologies and processes evolved in the past decade? What should organizations invest into to make sure they are ready for increasing backup demands?
Backup technologies are advancing at a fast pace: disk to tape, disk to disk, disk to disk to tape, disk to disk to disk, disk to cloud etc. Companies need to look harder at their data to apply the right technology to each data type, be it active mission critical, or inactive archive data. Organizations don’t want to worry about backup, they want to run their business. Why should they have to keep updating backup software, buying new tape hardware, cleaning tapes, maintenance, management, taking them offsite etc? Let someone else take care of it for them, automatically, securely, offsite and with better recovery options, and at the same time reducing their CapEx budget? Win-Win all around.

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