Lan-free and server-free back-ups
Traditional back-ups stage data onto a server and then push the data out to a tape drive, tape library, virtual tape library, or other storage target. But this is an inefficient approach because the back-up server is only utilised during the back-up process, and tremendous network bandwidth is needed to transfer back-up data to the target, so the Lan is almost unusable during the back-up. This approach is changing by systematically moving back-ups off the Lan and onto the San, so you should understand the difference between Lan-free and server-free back-ups.
Performance monitoring and reporting
Monitoring is an important part of the back-up process -- it helps administrators understand how efficiently the back-ups are being executed in their particular environment. By quantifying the elements of back-up performance, improvements can be implemented to optimise or streamline the process. As one example, performance monitoring might reveal better back-up throughput between 2:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. due to lowest network utilisation. This in turn might justify a shift in the back-up window. Similarly, low-throughput from the back-up server to the tape library may explain why excess "shoe shining" is inflating back-up windows and reducing tape life. Performance results can highlight the need for network infrastructure upgrades or media changes.
Back-up software should also provide comprehensive and configurable reporting features. High-level reports help management to follow overall back-up statistics on a weekly or monthly basis, while low-level reporting can identify possible back-up bottlenecks or media with frequent problems. Alerting is another vital feature of back-up software, allowing notable events or status updates to be forwarded to corresponding IT staff. For example, an alert can indicate that a back-up process failed to run properly, and immediate attention is required. Monitoring and reporting is sometimes implemented as standalone products that are separate from back-up software. Back-up Advisor from EMC is one such standalone product.
Beyond verification, organisations must practice their recovery on a regular basis. In many cases, organisations perform recovery drills by deleting unneeded "test" files that are maintained on the server, and then using the back-up software to recover those files.
General purchase considerations
Back-up software must be selected for its feature set and suitability for your own particular environment. However, there are some common issues to consider:
Ease-of-use. Tools that are cumbersome or overly complicated will not be used to their best potential. An IT staff should have the opportunity to test several prospective tools in a lab environment, providing comment on the feature set and user interface. Advanced features may require a modicum of training but should demand little, if any, formal training for basic features.
Compatibility. It's important for software to support the current -- and possible future -- hardware in your environment. Homogeneous environments may not be such an issue, but heterogeneous environments with a variety of hardware may prove more problematic. Network Data Management Protocol (NDMP) offers an open protocol that supports back-up tasks in heterogeneous network environments.
Specialised features. Back-up software will typically transfer files to tape or disc storage. However, an increasing number of software tools support data protection features like archival back-ups (e.g., content-addressed storage), continuous data protection, snapshots, mirroring or replication. Select back-up software that complements your back-up emphasis. For example, a tool like EMC's RecoverPoint allows for frequent snapshots to disc, while Symantec's Netback-up offers general purpose tape/disc back-up and restoration.
Application integration. If your goal is to support specific enterprise applications, consider the level of integration that the back-up software provides for those applications. For example, EMC NetWorker software supports modules integrated with vendor-specific application programming interfaces eliminating custom script development for applications like IBM Lotus Notes/Domino, Microsoft Exchange or Sybase.
This was first published in September 2007