Don't Forget Backup!

At a recent social gathering I found myself chatting with an IT director from a Fortune 50 company. As often happens when IT people find out what I do for a living, he started bouncing some ideas off me for my opinion. Eventually the conversation got around to his company's network storage and backup architecture.

What I found interesting was that although he has overall responsibility for the day-to-day operations of a huge network, he isn't responsible for keeping the network data backed up and available. That task falls under the auspices of the director responsible for the hardware side of the house. The fellow I talked to is responsible for administration and networking. Although he has input into the storage solution used enterprise-wide, he doesn't have final signoff on that decision.

That lack of control over the decision process was about to become a major concern for him--he was in the planning stages of an enterprise-wide rollout of Exchange Server 2003. Being a UNIX geek at heart, he said that, instead of having to deal with Windows Server 2003 and Exchange 2003, he'd prefer to implement a simple Linux-based POP3/SMTP email server. Although I think I built up his confidence a bit, he still harbors concerns about running Exchange Server on this scale.

In addition to rolling out Exchange Server, my new acquaintance needs to integrate it with a UNIX-based network backbone. His company's storage implementation includes Storage Area Networks (SANs) that use only tape for backup--with large robots, of course, but with no intermediate devices. The data is either live, online, or backed up to tape, and he worries about being able to promptly restore email data to individual mailboxes from tape.

I gave him a few leads in this area and told him that many backup and storage management products that integrate with Exchange Server are available from vendors such as CommVault Systems, NOVaSTOR, and Storactive. Although his company's backup and storage management solutions are UNIX based, I pointed out that many solutions that offer detailed Exchange integration are available to support all flavors of UNIX, including the Sun Microsystems Solaris version that predominates in his company.

What impressed (or maybe, depressed) me most was the lack of concern he showed about integrating Exchange Server's storage and backup needs into the existing infrastructure. Our conversation had started with the importance of email to a business and moved on to a discussion of the administrative problems that accompany email. This IT director clearly was well aware of all the potential problems involved in his forthcoming Exchange deployment. But he gave me the impression that he thought backup and storage would take care of themselves.

The one piece of advice I left him with was this: He either needs a comprehensive plan for integrating Exchange Server with his storage management and backup infrastructure, or he needs to be ready to implement a dedicated infrastructure for the Exchange rollout. The time and money spent to resolve storage concerns before the rollout couldn't be better spent anywhere else.

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