What are the costs of changing your backup application?

Come budget time, every manager is forced to look at where the capital siphons are and decide how to decrease those costs for the next year. More times than not, the team responsible for maintaining the backup infrastructure is one of the biggest cash vacuums. How do you, as a savvy manager, cut those costs?

To help you find a cheaper backup application, there are three salespeople on hold, eager to help you change from your bag-and-belt Hoover to a new bag-less upright with a HEPA filtration system. However, your current backup application vendor is on line four, and they're sending out notifications that all contract costs will double in the coming year. Looks like those first three salespeople are going to get some attention, right?

For many businesses, the answer would be a resounding "No." Taking a look at that same budget, plus the ones from previous years, and a more granular picture of what's gone into the current backup environment takes shape. And it's no Picasso.

The current backup team is a well-oiled machine, dealing with problems and fighting every fire before it grows. It took a lot of training to get to that stage, and years of reactive fire fighting before common application features were fully understood.

If you were to switch to a new backup application, could that same backup team be retrained? Will they bother to sacrifice their skill set to learn another or will they look for new jobs? Can the storage environment handle the loss of their years of detailed business knowledge?

The costs of making a switch to a new backup application are going to be high, and it's going to take a long time.
Brian Sakovitch
Senior ConsultantGlassHouse Technologies
If the current application has been there for several years, there is a good chance that there are long retention backup tapes sitting offsite in a code that another software suite wouldn't be able to decipher. Chances are there's also no data archiving solution, but rather a dependency on those long retention backups as a stand-in.

If you switch to a new backup application, can those hundreds of tapes be converted? Will the budget be able to handle the thousands of outsourced man-hours it will take to babysit those conversions? Another option would be to keep a small legacy infrastructure around. How much would the current backup application vendor charge for those legacy licences in order to recoup the loss of the main contract?

In the end, unless it's a very young backup environment, or one with little regulatory data retentions to uphold, the costs of making a switch to a new backup application are going to be high, and the transition is going to take a long time. There will be new people to hire, skill sets to build through training, petabytes of long term data to migrate and a legacy environment to maintain.

The good news is that all backup applications do the same thing. Each one may have a different way of doing it, but they're all copying data from one place to another. Once a backup application is chosen, it tends to be easier to stick with. On the other hand, if support demands, functionality or reliability issues warrant a switch of the current application, the budget needs to be prepared -- and padded -- for at least a year long endeavor.

About the author: Brian Sakovitch is a senior consultant at GlassHouse Technologies (UK), a global provider of IT infrastructure services. Brian has followed a 6-year path in backup technologies, ranging from hands-on installation and implementation to design and theory. Three of those years have been with GlassHouse US, focusing on a number of predominantly backup-related engagements for companies of all shapes and sizes.

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