The Changing Landscape for Backup, Archiving, and Disaster Recovery

The IT community hasn't operated on "Internet time" since, well, for a while now, but that doesn't mean fundamental change isn't underway. New ways of approaching long-term problems are emerging; the most significant approaches often emerge because of a psychological shift, which then encourages technological development. The psychological changes make new solutions desirable. The technology makes new solutions possible. Both psychological and technological factors are affecting the world of backup, archiving, and disaster recovery.

One example of a psychological shift that changed the way we view our environment was the reaction to the disaster of September 11. In addition to the obvious emotional impact that the events of September 11 made, the incident brought to light the importance of having a national backup and disaster-recovery plan in place. One factor that's influencing the IT community's view of the importance of a good backup strategy is the changing regulatory environment. For example, lawyers in high-profile legal proceedings frequently subpoena email correspondence. Health care and financial institutions face approaching deadlines to meet new regulatory requirements. Companies are now acutely aware of the need to create faster and more efficient access to historical data.

One technological change that's emerged in response to the need for more efficient access to data is the increasing reliance on hard disks as a backup technology. For years, tape has been the medium of choice for backup. However, over the past year, several major storage companies have released disk-based products intended to serve as online and near-line backup devices. Those entries are the first in what promises to be a major shift in technology.

In a white paper published 2 years ago, researchers in the storage system program at Hewlett-Packard (HP) Labs suggested that disk-based technology would soon surpass tape as the medium of choice for backup applications. The researchers argued that high-density hard disks provide superior performance, density, and maintenance characteristics. High-density hard disks also cost less per gigabyte than tape when the tape drive and other related costs are taken into account. Among the researchers' key points: Hard disks are five times faster than tape in sequential performance, making disks better for creating and restoring backup volumes; disk-based backup technology can potentially store twice as much data per backup volume than tape-based systems; and hard disks can offer better support for legacy devices. Finally, the researchers presented empirical evidence that hard disks might last longer than tape.

For years, backup, archiving, and disaster recovery have been lumped together, but now they are seen as separate and distinct technologies. Companies are concerned not only with whether their data has been preserved but also with how quickly the data can be restored and available after a breakdown. And the definition of data restoration is changing, too: Do users need access to only the latest version of the data or to multiple earlier versions?

In the past, some companies might have lumped archiving with disaster recovery, treating the technologies as one and the same. That confusion is no longer common. Although versions of data for disaster recovery must be kept off site, companies increasingly need convenient onsite access to archived storage.

As the differences between backup, archiving, and disaster recovery become clearer, companies are also better able to understand the differences and implement effective storage solutions. However, according to John Pearring, president of STORServer, storage managers still need to resolve the problems surrounding what he calls "the five-legged technology stool." Pearring uses the term five-legged technology stool because five parties are potentially involved in the backup, archiving, and disaster-recovery solution: The server vendor, the disk drive hard disk vendor, the tape drive vendor, the storage management software vendor, and a system integrator.

As you might expect, some vendors see the complexity of the five-legged stool model as an opportunity to offer integrated solutions. Network Appliance, Sony, and StorageTek are offering variations of backup appliances, as are some new entries in the field, such as STORServer.

Change happens, even if it doesn't always come at Internet speed. The old backup, archiving, and disaster-recovery solutions might be obsolete both technically and psychologically, but new solutions are emerging.

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