Finding space and time for continuous data protection

Finding space and time for continuous data protection Modern day businesses, large and small, now have an insatiable appetite for digital information,...

Modern day businesses, large and small, now have an insatiable appetite for digital information, writes Ratmir Timashev, CEO of Veeam Software. This upward curve is unlikely to stop, which is why for many organisations, even the least interruption in IT operations can result in complete chaos.

While data backup and recovery is a mainstay of any smart organisation, tough decisions often need to be made about what data is vital and what we can live without in the event of a disaster. The ideal backup solution is continuous data protection (CDP): essentially, data is backed up every time it is altered, ensuring that not a single second's worth is ever lost. However, accurately backing up and restoring data after every tiny change takes huge amounts of computing resource. True CDP requires dedicated, expensive software and SAN hardware that traditionally only the wealthiest organisations could afford. Yet change is on the virtual horizon.

Virtualisation

The adoption of virtualisation is currently helping IT departments make data backup and recovery much faster and more cost-effective. With many virtual machines fitting on a single server, it is much easier and more efficient to maintain a backup environment, and to restore it when needed. Virtual machines exist as a single disc file so an entire virtual machine containing data and applications can be backed up and recovered as a single image. In a disaster recovery situation this can save hours of time in rebuilding, configuring and deploying IT. This effective disruption of space and time brought about by virtualisation is certainly a step toward a much lower cost, accessible CDP, but it is only one stage in the journey.

Virtualisation on its own cannot provide true CDP. Protecting data on an entire virtual machine is made simple, but backup windows will be unacceptably long as the process still involves one single file to be backed up even if there is only a minor change . By using tools designed to allow very fast incremental backup, within minutes rather than hours, of virtual machines organisations can head closer toward the ideals of CDP: the continuous protection of vital data. So rather than backing up on an hourly, daily or even weekly basis as is the current approach with physical and virtual IT, organisations can bring backup windows down to a matter of minutes. Similarly, as recovery is also possible within a few minutes, downtime is considerably reduced and organisations can resume work with the minimum of lost data.

Storage cost savings

Unlike true CDP, this near-CDP backup is essentially hardware-agnostic. Organisations aren't required to have the same expensive SAN equipment at the primary and secondary datacentre where all VMs are replicated. Additionally, they aren't tied to the expensive CDP solution from their SAN vendor and instead are able to choose from a variety of lower cost solutions. Hence using virtualisation allows more flexibility.

Despite the benefits of this mix and match approach, it does remove the consistency that having a dedicated CDP solution provides. Hence, there are steps organisations must take to ensure that near-CDP works correctly. Aside from using tools that allow individual, file-level recovery of virtual machines, organisations must also invest time in regularly testing their backup virtual machines: otherwise, when recovery takes place, organisations may find a critical error that has passed unnoticed.

By adopting near-CDP through virtualisation, organisations can save up to 80% of the cost of an equivalent CDP system. IT departments can essentially loosen their data storage belts while tightening the purse strings.

This was last published in March 2010

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