Has backup become too complicated?

When it comes to backup, its easy to give into the temptation for shiny new products. Our expert tells us how to stay on the right track and make backup simpler.

Andrew Cross

 I occasionally hear our senior engineers discussing the virtues of backup software. Similar to supporting a football team, the reasons to support it vary. Whilst recognising some of the positive elements of opposing vendors, each engineer has their own polarised view of which solution is best.

The same can be said of my experiences with end users. Although there are market leaders and some vendors are more dominant than others, the choice of backup software is low on the list of priorities and the arguments to keep what is currently in place can seem flawed and outdated.

However, the backup requirements of the fully or partially virtualised data centre combined with the added pressures of planning for business continuity in the event of a disaster are challenging traditional thinking.

The temptation to consider shiny new products will always be strong. Perhaps resisting this temptation and maintaining a simple approach will reduce the complications.


Andrew Cross, sales director, Sol-Tec,

The concerns are widening from just ensuring a successful and regular data backup takes place to encompassing business issues like greater compliancy and remote server recovery. The increasing number of vendors and service providers who position their offerings as a potential single solution can leave IT management with a baffling choice.

For example, a company with two data centres has an array of choices. Virtualising both data centres will give a resiliency within each to protect against individual physical server failure. However, ensuring a secondary data centre operates in a way to provide business value; IT has choices.

A solution using Neverfail or its VMware variant offers immediate site failover. A solution using DoubleTake offers near immediate failover. A solution using Platespin Protect offers scheduled and incremental server replications, meaning point-in-time recoveries can be achieved. Offerings from Veeam and Symantec can achieve the same end goal. One of these solutions, and there are more, will deliver immediate or near immediate server recovery.

We should also not forget features provided as part of virtualised platforms like vMotion and vStorage. The choice of solution for high availability and/or server recovery is wide. And once that decision is made, the small matter of backup and recovery of data within the virtual machine (VM) needs tackling.

For IT, increasing the number of products used within an infrastructure requires training to expand product knowledge and increases the administration overhead. Multiple products are difficult to combine into a single management window. Products like Bocada do exist to manage multiple backup vendor environments through a single window. Without doubt, a more complex backup and recovery environment can be designed and implemented. However, can the CIO justify the expense when business pressures are forcing budgets to be maintained or trimmed?

How to make backup easier?
So has this area of the IT infrastructure become too complicated? Possibly, it is certainly a very easy task to technically justify the introduction of a range of new vendors to enhance the virtualised server farm. However, budgets may not accommodate this. The better question is: can it be made easier?

With the current economic climate forcing all expenditure to be examined with greater intensity, agreeing affordable recovery times which meet legal or compliancy requirements is a sensible approach. This may require a re-evaluation of the product benefits promoted by IT technology vendors.

In a recent customer technology meeting covering the virtualisation of 150 servers, the last agenda item, as always, was backup. For several years, the customer had deployed Symantec's Backup Exec to assist with a classic disk-to-disk-to-tape setup. Whilst still wishing to maintain this approach, the question of VM backup was raised and the shortfalls of Backup Exec in this area agreed. Further questioning revealed the customer was considering Veeam for VM file backup, Storagecraft for server image replication and Symantec for file backup. The Veeam and Storagecraft sales and marketing people had done a very good job!

So, from a technical viewpoint, the bases were covered and justification found. From an operational perspective, the disruption and challenges posed by introducing new vendor software was not fully explored or understood. From a business perspective, the cost to introduce the new vendor software -- including licences, increased administration and time taken to manage new vendor relationships -- was not fully explored. The impression I gained was that the features the proposed new software products could provide had blinkered the IT decision-making process and forced unnecessary complications. (Never mind the time wasted meeting vendors and evaluating their software!)

Simplifying backup with a comprehensive vendor choice
For me, the answer lay with Symantec. An upgrade from their Backup Exec to Netbackup product, with the inclusion of additional licenses for VM backup, would mean smaller capital expenditure, as Symantec is very kind to customers upgrading. There would be a single vendor to manage, a single window to manage all backup jobs, a reduced challenge to retrain and so on.

The features that the proposed new software products could provide had blinkered the IT decision-making process and forced unnecessary complications.


Andrew Cross, sales director, Sol-Tec,

To some, this may seem obvious. For many, the challenge here will be experienced across many areas of the virtualised data centre. x86 virtualisation is relatively new. The complimentary products that are required to assist with managing the virtualised environment are widening. These new and exciting products that, for many vendors, are seen as a mandatory feature of the virtualised estate, are challenging the traditional cautious approach. The excitement and often euphoria greeting virtualised innovations receive can cloud the original core objectives.

Personally, I welcome product innovations and the benefits they bring. However, it can be very easy for a technically-minded individual or team to become fascinated and enthralled with the features of a new product. The excitement at the technical possibilities can overshadow the original objectives set. The assessment of new innovations that can improve the replication of servers, data backup and high availability absorbs valuable time and resource when there is little resulting value being returned to the business.

Remembering the original objectives and seeking as singular an approach as possible can bring time- and cost-saving benefits. The temptation to consider shiny new products will always be strong. Perhaps resisting this temptation and maintaining a simple approach will reduce the complications. Certainly, from my experience, accommodating the backup and high availability requirements of the virtualised data can be made simpler.

Andrew Cross is the sales director at vendor independent reseller Sol-Tec and a contributor to SearchVirtualDataCentre.co.uk.

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