Application recovery: Is your head in the sand?

Charlie Latch
Amdahl Corp.

The prevalence of distributed business applications running in diverse, multi-vendor computing environments has created new data management challenges. Evolving applications (e.g., distributed client/server and Internet) are amassing data at unprecedented rates, leaving IT organizations scurrying to implement new technologies to manage the exponential storage growth.

As companies evaluate new approaches and re-centralize storage management functions to take advantage of new technologies, the problem of application recoverability in the event of a system failure, etc., is often neglected. The issue is further complicated by multiple independent management products and procedures that are aligned by platform or technology and do not interoperate. Application recovery data produced by these products resides on different media and is not interchangeable.

Understanding the day-to-day execution and status of the various backups, especially as this information relates to business applications spanning multiple platforms, has become a difficult, tedious, and time-consuming task, usually performed by multiple people.

CIOs are being asked to take back all of the mistakes of client/server and distributed computing and to centralize management of the entire enterprise. And because most application architecture decisions are based on business requirements and not technology, IT organizations are being asked to manage applications they have never seen before.

Facing exponential data growth, most organizations are considering new storage technologies that will allow them to keep up with the growth. Examples include storage area networks (SANs) and network-attached storage (NAS) architectures.

The looming threat

While this all sounds good, a very real threat looms-specifically the ability to ensure 24x7 recovery of critical business applications and data in the event of disaster. But IT organizations are ill equipped to fully manage the emerging infrastructures. The reason is simple. We have failed to address the real issue that makes managing the environment so difficult.

In the IT tools market, hundreds of products address MVS, Unix, NT, Windows, etc. Billions of dollars are spent creating and supporting these tools with the belief they will provide the necessary control to understand and manage diverse applications. This is the wrong approach, and the market must evolve to meet IT management needs in the next century.

With the vast amount of data relating to key business applications residing on multiple technology platforms across the organization, IT managers need to evolve management processes from that of technology platforms to business-process management.

Understanding the importance of data recovery in distributed business processes, experts predict backup products to gain renewed market interest. Because most organizations do not have the luxury of re-architecting enterprise storage management procedures to suit the centralized storage centers, they face multi-vendor backup and recovery environments.

The backup function, often overlooked during application deployment, spans multiple products and procedures, leaving recovery of key applications vulnerable to incomplete, non-synchronized multi-vendor solutions.

Many companies do not have the time to adequately redesign their applications to allow for data recovery. And for those that do, business forces such as mergers and acquisitions often result in the merging of technology infrastructures, which can take years to complete.

To effectively address the problem, you have three alternatives:

Stay the course. While few companies would admit to a "head in the sand" strategy, it is the easiest and most prevalent approach. Because competitive factors force IT organizations to work hard enabling new application architectures, it is easy to sweep the basic management of those applications under the rug. Because management is often of the "it can't happen to me" mentality, the issue can get lost in day-to-day operations.

Standardize and manage. This alternative is also easy to accept at first sight: The best approach to managing a complex environment is to standardize and implement procedures that allow for effective management. Some organizations take this path to ensure data and application recovery. And because most IT organizations cannot adequately influence the application architecture, they adopt data management techniques that allow them to standardize storage management even in the face of complex and diverse applications.

Most tool vendors in the backup and recovery market are expanding the number of platforms they support. Understanding that IT organizations prefer to reduce complexity than to limit the number of tools used, vendors are racing to ensure complete coverage to meet the need for multi-platform backup and recovery applications.

Though it may sound good, the approach is often referred to as "the chasing your tail" method. It is naive to assume the rate of change will slow down or that you will ever be able to truly standardize the IT infrastructure. Even those that do succeed to some degree will be faced with business changes (e.g., mergers) that will propel them back into an unstructured, non-standardized environment.

Manage the chaos. The only way to efficiently ensure application and data recovery in a complex, rapidly changing technology environment is to implement new tools that address the prevailing multi-vendor, distributed environments. Products are beginning to emerge that can automate the monitoring of multi-vendor backup processes throughout the enterprise, analyzing for completeness, on-time execution, and errors. These products allow for a single platform to monitor enterprise-wide backup, recovery, archiving, and disaster-recovery planning.

Using these tools, organizations can relate platform-specific backup procedures to enterprise backup policies. Not only does this ensure the ability to deal with today's reality, but it also does so in a manner that efficiently addresses business continuance needs. This business process approach to backup and recovery results in enhanced application recoverability for diverse, distributed, multi-platform business applications.

Charlie Latch is a product marketing manager at Amdahl Corp. (www.amdahl.com), in Sunnyvale, CA.

This article was originally published on January 01, 2000