A backup administrator should never be a single point of failure

Many companies with longtime gurus as their backup administrators fall into the problem of becoming completely dependent on them. Such companies need to either hire some low-level techicians to grow into the guru's role, or clone the guru.

Backup administrators are spread thin and in most companies are a single point of failure. There are times when having a clone or even two of your main backup administrator would come in handy. A 'Number 2' to fill in for sick leave, a second-in-command to be on call tonight, or a first mate to finish an ongoing project instead of fighting fires all day.

Nearly all backup environments fall on the shoulders of one longtimer who knows all the ins and outs" This person may be a part of a team, but when this backup administrator or 'guru' isn't around, things have a habit of falling apart.

With this guru on the payroll, organisations tend to get a bit complacent, and eventually completely dependent on this person. The guru has seen and solved every intricate incident that's come up over time, and tried their best to pass on those experiences, but in the end becomes a single point for all out-of-the-ordinary backup information.

Backup admins are in constant firefighting mode, and there's never a lack of incidents to sort through.
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This reliance on one person, or in this case the backup administrator, is a problem that plagues backup teams, but there's not always an obvious solution. Backup admins are in constant firefighting mode, and there's never a lack of incidents to sort through. On top of daily operations, the infrastructure is in a state of flux of new technology implementation and old technology decommissioning. With all of these 'critical' tasks taking up precious hours, knowledge transfer, and training tend to take a back seat to quick incident resolution. Since the person who is most qualified and quickest to recognise the root of an incident is the backup administrator, their time becomes too costly to spend training others.

This is an easy trap to fall into, and leads to one person becoming so invaluable that they're assured employment for the rest of the company's life. Since the technology to copy and paste another backup admin hasn't quite been perfected yet, staffing and time allotment strategies need to be revisited.

A healthy mix of like-skilled people with an appropriate amount of time set aside for knowledge transfer and training is needed to circumvent this 'guru' phenomenon. Of course if that guru is already ruling the backup kingdom, it might be cheaper in the long run to hire a few lower-skilled, younger technicians to grow into more strategic roles and alleviate reliance on the guru. A last option is to switch out of IT entirely and take up cloning. With so many gurus in the IT industry, there will be no shortage of demand.

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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