Because backup occurs behind the scenes, you might not know whether your backup software is working as it should until you try to recover lost data, only to find that your backup is corrupted or that you can't recover data close enough to the time of data loss. It's enough to induce insomnia. But there's a non-pharmaceutical solution to sleepless nights: a backup and recovery appliance.
Set It and Forget It
The main attraction of a backup and recovery appliance is its implied ease of use—the "set it and forget it" quality that many IT pros crave in a backup and recovery solution. Typically, appliances come preloaded with all the necessary components, so you don't have to deal with multiple vendors, warranties, and customer support departments. Plus, you don't have to be a storage specialist to use backup and recovery appliances. Sounds great, but how do you decide which appliance is best for your organization?
The appliance you choose depends on your budget, the size of your organization, the storage knowledge of your staff, and the particular storage, backup, and recovery needs of your industry. The Buyer's Guide table on page 30 lists features that you'll probably want to consider as you do your research.
Agents. Not all appliances are truly plug and play. If an agent is required, it must be deployed, adding a step to the setup process; however, an agent might give you functionality that you need. If an agent is required, ask whether you can use Group Policy to deploy the agent or if installation is manual. Along a similar line, determine whether you want a solution that requires no integration with other software or whether you need one that works with existing storage software. Typically, but not always, backup and recovery appliances come preloaded with proprietary or third-party software.
Interoperability. If you're not an all-Microsoft shop, you probably need an appliance that also supports non-Windows OSs. Even if you run only Windows, you might need support for multiple versions.
Point-in-time recovery. Most organizations need to be able to recover data from just before the system failed or the data was corrupted or lost. If you need continuous data protection (CDP), look for an appliance that offers it.
Granularity of recovery. If you need to be able to recover just one file or folder without having to recover the entire volume or system, you'll want to look for an appliance that can do so. Some appliances even offer bare-metal recovery.
Management features. How will you monitor the success of your backup operations? You don't want to wait for a disaster to occur to discover that backups didn't take place as planned. Also, regulatory agencies might require confirmation that you're meeting storage compliance requirements. Backup and recovery appliances provide a variety of management features, including monitoring, alerting, and reporting. Pay attention to the details: For example, a solution might offer the email alerts you need, but not to the multiple-mailbox setup you want.
Application support. The appliance you choose should be able to support any application you run. Some appliance vendors say that their products support all applications.
Type of backup. What kind of backups do you want? As you wade through the options, keep in mind the following rough definitions of some backup types:
- Disk-to-disk (D2D) backup involves backing up a hard disk to another hard disk; generally this approach allows for a faster restore than you'd get from tape.
- Disk-to-disk-to-disk (D2D2D) backups add remote replication to D2D backups for another layer of protection.
- Disk-to-disk-to-tape (D2D2T) backups involve backing up data to a hard disk to have an easily accessible copy, then copying the contents of the hard disk to tape for long-term storage.
- Virtual tape storage or virtual tape library (VTL) backups involve saving data as if it were stored on tape, but it's actually stored on a hard disk. One advantage of VTL is that it integrates with your existing tape storage.
- NAS, which is a form of hard-disk storage, has a network address and is attached to a LAN, giving you file-sharing capability.
Balancing Needs and Wants
Given the role data plays in the success of a business, a workable backup and recovery solution is a nonnegotiable business requirement. As with most products, backup and recovery appliances have trade-offs, such as cost versus feature set and functionality versus simplicity. But the variety of available appliances means that organizations of all sizes can find one that provides the features they need at a price they can afford. Backup and recovery appliances offer great payoffs, the least of which, peace of mind, you might find the most rewarding.