CIOs have been urged to rethink their backup strategies following warnings from leading analysts that companies are wasting billions on unnecessary storage.
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Analyst group Gartner warned that businesses were spending 20% more than they need to – equivalent to at least $10bn wasted worldwide – on backing up unnecessary data.
“That is a conservative figure, and I would suggest the real figure is three or four times that amount,” said Dave Russell, research vice-president of Gartner.
Cheap backup is false economy
Most companies invest very little in their backup technologies, with spending on server and network technologies typically 20 times greater than spending on backup.
But businesses are missing a trick by skimping on their backup systems, according to Russell.
“Backup can be an integral part of disaster recovery and high availability, and it can be repurposed for data mining and patch deployment, rather than being a back-end process that can be leveraged by the business,” he said.
The most common mistake businesses make is to fail to update their backup policies. It is not unusual for companies to be using backup policies that are years or even decades old, which do not discriminate between business-critical files and the personal music files of employees.
“If you are backing up people’s iTunes libraries, that is a big problem,” said Russell.
Avoid backing up just in case
Another common problem is for businesses to back up data just in case. That is a noble response, said Russell, but it overtaxes the systems and gives businesses a false sense of security.
Gartner, for example, used to keep weekly backups of data stored on tape for 10 years.
“I said, 'What are you going to do with that? Even if you get the tapes back, are you going to have Windows 95 or version 2 of the database you need to read the data',” he said.
Often, the problem is that companies mistake backup technology for data archiving, said Russell. “Backup is largely for operational recovery, not for long-term retention.”
Russell advises CIOs to consider carefully what data their businesses really need.
“First and foremost, start by applying triage,” he said. “Working backwards from doing a business impact assessment, ask what is the most critical business application or process? What is the most critical data?”
Research by Gartner suggests that businesses are beginning to take a more discriminating approach to backup.
A survey last year revealed that 50% of companies now keep backup data for 90 days or less, down from two years or more in 2009.
“What really started to drive this change was global macro-economic events of 2009 and 2012. But there is still the other 50%, the not-so-good half, who are keeping data for 90 days or more,” he said.