Y2K pushes data backup to the forefront

IS departments put too little emphasis on data backup and recovery, but with year 2000 problems looming on the horizon it’s in their interest to finally get it right, according to industry experts

Observers compare data protection to insurance policies — they say users become familiar with them only after disaster strikes. Without a well-thought out plan, it’s hard to recover corrupt or lost data, and some believe the problems associated with the Y2K bug will reveal just how unprepared IS shops really are.

That’s especially true for non-enterprise systems, like desktops and mobile devices, said Craig McLellan, backup solutions manager with StorageTek Canada Inc. in Mississauga, Ont.

“Less than four per cent of the end user computing environment backs up, and what we’re finding is that that’s a habit that isn’t just going to be fixed. And Y2K is probably the first scenario where people are actually consciously starting to think about this.”

Year 2000 threatens corporate data in several ways, according to experts. Besides the risk to data posed by potential date-related failures, testing remediated data can also put corporate data at risk. And without a backup system, IS departments face the possibility of dealing with mission critical system failures while handling a flood of calls from users unable to retrieve documents from desktop applications.

Alan Kaechele, senior product manager for Replica NDM, a virtual, automatic data backup tool developed by San Diego-based STAC Inc., said misconceptions about data backup are still common in IS departments.

“People think it’s complicated and hard…frequently what we run into is kind of a negative attitude,” he said, adding that many IS workers still have visions of massive tape libraries, a technology that has in many cases been replaced by on-line databases and full disk storage.

One analyst said CIOs, distracted by dozens of other more pressing problems, historically haven’t attached a lot of weight to data protection. “Backup is like a lot of things, it’s something that people should do but don’t always do,” said David Hill, senior analyst in storage and storage management with The Aberdeen Group in Boston, Mass. “(But) if you’re overloaded with other things, it’s sometimes something you don’t do.”

In deciding what data should be backed-up, Hill said everyone has to ask themselves one question: is loss of certain data going to be an inconvenience, or an all-out threat to the business? “If the loss is going to threaten the business…it had better be backed up,” he said. But if he were a CIO, Hill said he wouldn’t be overly concerned about information stored on desktops or mobile devices.

McLellan admits that large Canadian companies with sophisticated IS systems do a good job of data protection. It’s the small- to mid-sized companies that he worries about – organizations that tend to rely on desktops and mobile devices.

“We have reason to believe that over half of the intellectual property inside a company doesn’t see a glass house. So [a company] may have a great handle on the Oracle database running SAP, and yes it’s very important to get the invoices out on time, but invoices are a result of proposals, they’re a result of business correspondence…that doesn’t originate in the enterprise system; they originate with the end-user.”

Kaechele said reports of Y2K-related horror stories are also changing IS departments’ attitudes about data protection. “I think they’re starting to take it very seriously. And I think this year they’re going to go from very serious to near panic as the end of the year gets closer.”