Put a stop to bloated back-ups

You never know when trouble may hit — a freak thunderstorm could take out your data centre, or a hacker might infiltrate your infrastructure. The enterprise has caught on to the importance of backing up data, but when do you stop? With storage capacity growing at around 50 per cent per year, it’s important to safeguard your data, but at what point does the cautious Cassandra become the overly nervous Nelly?

“I don’t know if there is such a thing as too much back-up, but it’s what’s included in the back-up that’s the problem,” said Warren Shiau, a senior associate with the Toronto-based research firm, The Strategic Counsel. The trouble is that people tend to include static data in their back-ups, he said, which leads to a bulk of non-changing information clogging up your system that could be safely shuffled off to an archiving solution.

Temptation is to blame when it comes to backing up too much. “As the cost of storage goes down, companies figure, why not back up everything?” said David Senf, IDC Canada’s director of security and software research. This is reflected in the skyrocketing figures in the storage software market. According to Senf, the market will grow by eight per cent in 2007 (three per cent above the overall software growth rate of five per cent), raking in sales of $400-million.

But the key to the right amount of back-up is just storing active, in-production data, according to Shiau. That way, if a recovery is needed, the process won’t be slowed by reams of unnecessary data. “You need to change some of your fundamental assumptions about what to back up. It’s important to challenge these assumptions,” said Rob Lunney, Western Canada district sales manager for storage vendor EMC.

When it comes to making hard data choices, the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) can come in handy, said Lunney. “It offers best practices for data classification,” he said. This is, in fact, an area where companies could set themselves apart from the competition. But according to Senf, ITIL has yet to make a significant dent in Canadian storage practices.

Companies need to assign value to different information by studying where the information is, where it goes, what it does, and what the service levels are, said Lunney — and that it can be backed up appropriately, both in terms of frequency, amount and location.

Said Jon Bock, senior product marketing manager with virtualization vendor VMWare, “People need to tier their requirements in terms of frequency. Constantly back up only things that are Tier-1 – things that will cause the business to suffer harm if lost.”

By moving non-critical information from Tier-1 to mid-range tiers, said Lunney, “you can save 30 to 35 per cent in storage costs.” Said Shiau, “You need to make sure you have active data requirements – only things with lots of write-overs and lots of recovery cycles.” And how do you ensure that static data doesn’t make it into your back-ups? Policies!

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