Most people working in technology know that writing documentation related to the processes that drive backup and storage is the cornerstone of a successful IT strategy. However, most of those technology pros don't enjoy doing this and often push documentation to the bottom of their to-do lists.
Indeed, it's easy to tell that storage documentation isn't high on the typical IT agenda. In my experience talking with clients about their methods, many companies have some limited form of documentation detailing design elements. At the very best, a few have a high standard of documentation they share with other parts of the business outside of their sphere of control, but this is very rare.
A problem with documentation is that everyone discusses what they want and plans for it being there, but they often don't actually get round to recording it. Employees then move on or change roles, and essential information about the systems may not be passed on if the process hasn't been documented correctly. Ultimately, this is a drain on resources, as time and money has to be invested a second time. Even when a record is available, it's quite often incomplete or not well publicised within the company, and so remains useless and unused.
Another problem is that in many environments backup administrators aren't directly responsible for resolving issues with the backup clients themselves; it's the system administrator's role. However, the system administrator isn't necessarily the expert in fixing backup client issues and, therefore, problems go unresolved. This isn't good for business, as data could potentially be lost.
Documentation doesn't need to be a chore. A simple check sheet detailing the "five common steps to fix each backup client" can be written by the backup administrators and distributed to the system administrators. This can be done quickly and easily in bullet point form. It's important to keep the text clear and concise, and reference vendor websites and other valuable documentation.
The same principles outlined above can be applied within the storage team. "How to" guidelines, for instance, can be great time savers for irregular processes and can also be used as training aids for new team members.
While it's good to have lots of great documentation, if it's stored on someone's laptop or on a departmental drive, it's not doing much good. Guides, procedural documents and design documentation need to be easily accessible at all times and (in certain cases) by a wide audience to be used optimally.
There's a wide array of options for storing data. Many applications offer collaborative working solutions. In my opinion, an intranet site or Wiki is the best way to share this information. These provide a searchable location that's easily maintained and accessed. Don't forget to publicise the site so it's used and added to by other members of the IT community.
Once a coherent strategy for documentation is followed, the benefits to individuals within the various business departments in time saved and improved efficiency are massive.
About the author: Spencer Huckstepp is a Technical Consultant at GlassHouse Technologies (UK), a global provider of IT infrastructure services. He has 11 years of IT industry experience, eight of which have been in the enterprise storage arena. Spencer's role includes involvement with various virtualisation, storage and backup strategy engagements.