Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Modernizing backups, or as I like to call it, data protection

Nearly every enterprise IT organization out there is experiencing a significant increase in customer expectations around application performance and business continuity. Response time once measured in seconds are now measured in milliseconds,  and downtime measured in hours or days is now expected to be minutes, if that.

To keep pace with all of that change in expectations, many organizations are implementing application modernization programs that allow them to take advantage of new technologies such as cloud enabled applications, etc. These changes are also driving changes in the infrastructure that those new/modern application run on. Modern network technologies, IaaS, even more virtualization, and containers are all being driven deep within the modern datacenter by these needs.

What hasn't been keeping up, however, are backups, or as I prefer to call it, data protection.  The old full's and incremental backups to some medium such as tape, or even disk, just isn't getting it done anymore.  The entire concept of backups/data protection is being replaced with Business Continuance. The focus has shifted from a siloed attempt to protect the businesses data, to ensuring that the business can continue to run.

With organizations considering availability, it’s no longer about simply needing to restore a single file or folder. It’s about complex processes like recovering a multi-tiered application that spans multiple servers and bringing each server and the data it requires into a consistent state with the others. It’s far more involved than the restore jobs of yesteryear.

In some ways, basic backup no longer has a place in the modern data center. As new technologies have come into use—the foremost being virtualization—you can now easily move workloads from one location to another. You can even performing maintenance during the day. The options around availability are much greater and more flexible than what backups alone provide.

Even so, the idea of a backup—that is, having copies of your data—is still viable. Now data centers have moved to advanced concepts like replicating data at the disk level or entire virtual machines, both from one store to another or even one site to another. This provides both increased protection and faster recoverability.

Organizations today aren’t just looking at availability on a per-application or per-server basis. The goal is to make everything available in the event of an outage. So it’s not “we have our order processing back online, but e-mail is still down.” Now it’s essential to have the entire business back up and running, not just a few services.

Should you have an availability event, can you benefit from backup alone? Backups certainly still have a place. For example, if you’re replicating changes to a VM and the source VM is somehow corrupted, that corruption will simply get replicated. So having a backup of the critical data on that server can play a role in ensuring recoverability. However, backup as the only method is no longer an option for businesses focused on being available. 

As newer technologies have emerged, the frequency of backups has also shortened. In previous years, your backup window simply couldn’t be anything less than nightly. These days, backups occur
much more frequently—even during production hours. And with technology like instant VM recovery in place, the concept of restoring a backup job is somewhat obsolete.

If your organization is like most, you’ve already begun or have made the investment in a modern data center. Despite your desire to simplify what you manage, it’s a complex mix of virtual machines, servers, storage and networking. Because you’ve made the investment to meet the demand to maintain operations, traditional backups alone just won’t scale to meet the availability needs of the organization in such an advanced data center environment. 

Your organization must have standards for what is and is not acceptable downtime. Comparing the businesses’ required levels of availability against what’s currently attainable can help you create a service baseline from which to work towards availability. Begin with the business requirements around application and environment availability, instead of what your backups can do today. This will help IT look for ways to cost-effectively take advantage of current technologies or invest in new ones to make meeting availability requirements a reality. 

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