Fast recovery and availability overcome tape barrier

One option is a network-based services layer that sits between the applications and storage devices.

By Wayne Lam

Every IT manager knows the importance of data backup and recovery to the organization's business continuity strategy. The basic approach to data backup, however, has not changed in decades. Today, most organizations rely on overnight tape backups, but this approach to business continuity simply does not serve the needs of some companies. Those organizations should consider breaking out of the backup-means-tape mindset and take a close look at a variety of new backup options that will give them more flexibility and faster recovery.

In an emergency, if your workers had to start working tomorrow with data that was at least one day old, how productive would they be? And how happy would your customers be? In just a few hours too many transactions and too much work is saved and stored. If you can't back up this work frequently and recover it quickly, your organization may lose a lot of revenue and productivity, not to mention customers.

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The conventional approach of overnight tape backup is often too slow, infrequent, and inflexible for today's dynamic, fast-paced business environments. Rather than help businesses meet their recovery goals, tape backup creates a barrier to rapid recovery and business continuity. As a result, some organizations are exploring new approaches to backup and recovery. They want almost immediate availability of current data and assured business continuance even in the most data-intensive, rapidly changing business environments.

Adding to the challenge is the complexity of enterprise storage environments, which further complicates backup and recovery. Organizations will need new options that recognize this complexity, as well as work in conjunction with existing tape-based backup.

Some organizations have already moved to networked storage. Networked storage, particularly storage area networks (SANs), changes the backup-and-recovery equation by enabling more ways to achieve high availability and business continuity. It allows fast, flexible access to stored data and lets organizations easily move, replicate, and mirror data. It also allows organizations to tap low-cost storage capacity such as ATA disk arrays. But most importantly, it allows for new backup-and-recovery models that reduce complexity and accelerate data backup and recovery.

Storage networks provide the means to let you back up data without involving the application server that created the data. This is sometimes referred to as "zero-impact backup," which opens up new backup-and-recovery options.

But, a simple storage network is not enough. SANs only provide the connectivity: The key to this network-based approach to backup and recovery is the addition of a services layer between the applications and the storage. Through this services layer, an organization is able to offload a wide range of storage services both from the application servers and the storage devices and put them into the network, sometimes on an appliance positioned in the network data path. By inserting intelligence into the data path, organizations can take advantage of fast, frequent, up-to-the-minute snapshots of their data based on their business needs and not be restricted to the limitations of overnight tape backup. Instead, they can recover directly from these snapshots, doing so in a fraction of the time required for tape-based recovery.

For example, organizations can make frequent, highly granular snapshots of data. These snapshots can be as frequent as every minute. This allows organizations to achieve nearly point-in-time recovery without the cost and complexity of full mirroring.

To further minimize costs, companies can maintain these snapshots near-line on inexpensive JBOD arrays rather than on costly enterprise RAID subsystems. A JBOD array can consist of ATA drives costing a fraction of enterprise disk arrays. ATA-based arrays provide a high-speed alternative for backing up business-critical information or for providing fast access to frequently accessed fixed content.

By combining the new backup-and-recovery options enabled by an intelligent service layer with conventional tape backup, organizations can achieve more flexibility in backup and recovery. They can, for instance, determine based on business requirements and cost which data needs to be mirrored, which needs point-in-time recovery, and which only requires conventional tape backup. By taking advantage of frequent snapshots for point-in-time recovery, organizations can minimize the use of costly mirroring while still achieving high levels of data availability.

Wayne Lam is VP of marketing and professional services at FalconStor (www.falconstor.com) in Melville, NY.

This article was originally published on July 01, 2003