Analysts weigh in on backup, recovery issues

By Heidi Biggar

Before you give yourself a pat on the back for a backup-and-recovery job well done, the Enterprise Storage Group (ESG) consulting firm says you might want to take a good look at your backup plan from a business, not just a technology, perspective.

According to ESG analysts, while IT technology executives (CIOs, vice presidents of IT, etc.) and front-line technology staff (e.g., system administrators) pretty much see eye-to-eye when it comes to reporting backup success rates, they often view recovery success in very different lights.

"The source of the discrepancy lies in the fact that technology executives are more likely to interface with business managers and, therefore, may have more insight into [what constitutes a 'successful' recovery from a business perspective]," writes John McKnight in the recent ESG research report, The evolution of enterprise data protection.

In a survey of 222 IT users, ESG found that 38% of technology executives at enterprise companies felt that 20% of their tape-based recovery efforts failed, while only 18% of technology staff reported the same failure rate.

The point is not necessarily that administrators are under-reporting failure rates, but that they are perhaps unknowingly over-reporting success rates. Put another way: IT administrators have a tendency to look at backup-and-recovery in its purest form--that is, whether or not data is being backed up and made available for recovery--while IT management looks at data recovery in terms of its intrinsic business value.

Explains McKnight: "A recovery may seem successful to IT if and when it can produce a user's lost or corrupted data. However, if that data has outlived its business value, it can hardly be considered a 'successful' recovery in business terms."

The age-old challenge before IT administrators--hence IT management--is making sure that the data that needs to be backed up (that is, data that has some sort of business value) is being backed up properly and on the right media for easy, quick recovery.

In fact, 37% of the survey respondents said that the inability to validate the backup-and-recovery process was their biggest problem with their backup-and-recovery software. About 66% of the respondents said the backup process took too long, while 49% cited the lengthy recovery process, and 40% pointed to the number of staff hours required to manage these processes.

Overall, users are concerned about their level of protection against data loss. In fact, 51% said they were either worried or knew that their current backup schedule left some of their data exposed to potential loss.

In this case, those closest to the data (i.e., the business analysts) were most concerned about their overall level of data protection, while IT management was least concerned. According to the survey, 62% of respondents who held management titles said they were confident that their existing processes were adequately protecting their data, while only 44% of those responsible for day-to-day backup operations and 34% of business analysts felt similarly assured.

What does this mean? It shows how differently IT and business users view data protection, according to ESG's McKnight. The key is to make sure that if you're a technology vendor that you take these perspectives into account when building backup-and-recovery products, and if you're a user, that you factor business goals into your backup and, more importantly, recovery time objectives (RTOs), he says.

According to the survey, 31% of survey respondents said they would experience a significant business loss or adverse business impact within one hour or less of application downtime. However, only 29% of these respondents said they thought their current backup-and-recovery software was keeping them from meeting application availability and recovery objectives.

This article was originally published on February 25, 2004