The end of data backup software?

Disk technologies are pushing data backup applications into a new role.

For years, backup applications focused primarily on two main functions: moving data from client to server, and managing tapes and tape libraries. Numerous optimizations, like multistreaming and storage area network (SAN) media servers, were developed to essentially overcome performance limitations inherent to the serial nature of tape.

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At the same time, the range of available options for data recovery expanded well beyond backup to the point that, for many organizations, restoring from tape has become their option of last resort.

This world of recovery possibilities, enabled by disk technology, is pushing backup applications into a new role. Backup apps are evolving as the central entity for managing disk-based recovery. This includes:

Snapshot management: Snapshots and split mirrors have long been used to facilitate the backup of key apps. Beyond improving backup, many environments snapshot throughout the day and retain snapshots. In most cases, they're managed independent of backup.

Replication: Like snapshots, replication has become an important recovery mechanism, particularly for disaster recovery, and needs to be included in any comprehensive recovery management capability.

Virtual tape libraries (VTLs) as intelligent disk: For large tape environments, tape emulation remains the simplest and least disruptive means of leveraging disk, and VTL vendors are working to enrich their feature sets beyond just emulation. However, functions performed outside of the awareness of the backup app (e.g., replication) can often create confusion when it comes to recovery and overall data recovery management.

Data deduplication: Data deduplication has created opportunity and confusion. It's a technology that can be performed at the client, server, within a NAS appliance or in a virtual tape library. Data backup applications must be able to accommodate any of those approaches and often more than one at a time.

Continuous data protection (CDP): Like deduplication, CDP is a technology that takes a number of forms. In some cases, it exists as a standalone technology, but its real value is as an integrated element of a tiered recovery strategy, and it should be managed as such.

Enhanced application recovery: In some cases, disk can be used to simplify and improve recovery capabilities for environments like VMware and apps such as Exchange and SharePoint with both volume-level and granular object recovery available from a single backup.

Establishing consistent data management and recovery policies and ensuring they're adhered to is becoming increasingly important. While leveraging disk technology can lead to improved data recovery service levels, a complementary management capability is also required. The leading enterprise backup apps have all been able to evolve beyond traditional backup.

As more disk-based recovery alternatives are adopted, the coordinated management of multisource recovery will continue to increase in importance. A logical place to look for this to coalesce is within the backup application. It's important for organizations to understand their vendor's strength and direction in this area. The time has come to shed the traditional, compartmentalized view of backup and embrace a recovery-centric data management focus. To do otherwise would mean standing still.

This article originally appeared in Storage magazine.

About this author: James Damoulakis is CTO of GlassHouse Technologies.


This was first published in August 2009

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