IT challenged on managing storage, securing data

Despite advances in storage technology, IT managers are still concerned about their ability to secure data, ensure it’s available to valid users, track who uses it and manage it effectively, said attendees at the Storage Networking World Conference.Despite advances in storage technology, IT managers are still concerned about their ability to secure data, ensure it’s available to valid users, track who uses it and manage it effectively.Text

Hurricane Wilma, which struck southern Florida last Monday, offered examples of the difficulties of keeping data available to users after a natural disaster, according to one IT executive at the show.

Ralph Barber, CIO at Holland & Knight LLP in Tampa, Fla., said Wilma knocked out several branch offices of his law firm, which has about 450 servers and two storage-area networks that support about 3,000 users.

Holland & Knight replicates data between data centers in Tampa and Denver and uses digital tape to transport information between offices. Nevertheless, Barber said, systems weren’t restored quickly enough after Wilma knocked out power to millions in southern Florida.

“Our challenges [in recent months] have been to put together a suite of services that will allow for disaster recovery and business continuity,” he said.

Holland & Knight’s Fort Lauderdale office was restored Wednesday morning, and power was restored to the Miami and West Palm Beach offices by Friday, he said.

Barber said the recovery process would likely have been sped up if real-time, online data-replication tools had been used during the disaster.

But now, he said, “we’re really trying to mitigate [data loss] through backup and replication.” Barber said his firm uses shipping services from United Parcel Service Inc. to move backup tapes among some 30 branch offices. Some tapes are encrypted, but others are not. “That’s a risk,” he said.

Barber said he’s working toward moving data over his firm’s WAN in an encrypted form, which he said will cut some transportation costs, man-hours and the risk of losing tapes now moved between offices.

Greg Schulz, an analyst at Evaluator Group Inc. in Englewood, Colo., suggested that technologies such as disk-to-disk backup can facilitate rapid data recovery and restoration. And continuous data protection can improve recovery-time and recovery-point objectives in mainstream environments, he said.

Ken Black, global storage architect at Yahoo Inc. in Sunnyvale, Calif., said he’s seeking new ways to encrypt data in light of recent high-profile cases of data loss and because of federal guidelines that require an emphasis on security.

“We have a group called the Paranoids. They’re our security people, and they look for holes everywhere — and what’s irritating is, we’re finding them everywhere,” Black said.

Yahoo has dozens of data centers and anywhere from 4 to 7 petabytes of data to manage, he said. And with so much data, his storage administrators are struggling to keep up with backups.

“We’re trying to find something that helps us meet our backup windows,” Black said. “That’s one of the biggest hurdles right now.”

Like many users at the conference, which was co-sponsored by Computerworld and the Storage Networking Industry Association, Black said he’s testing disk-to-disk backup technologies such as virtual tape libraries.

Cliff Dutton, chief technology officer at Ibis Consulting Inc. in Providence, R.I., which manages 200TB of network-attached storage as part of its electronic data discovery business, said he’s also concerned about his ability to track data in a crisis.

Dutton said he doesn’t replicate data to an off-site facility because data restoration must be “almost instantaneous.” The cost of meeting such a requirement using an off-site facility would be prohibitive, he said.

“If something is down for even a few minutes, it’s a horrible problem for us,” Dutton said.

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