Storage Disciplines Reach Smaller Enterprises

Capacity breeds complexity. Industry observers routinely marvel about how much more bang for the buck users can get in desktop computers, servers, and accompanying hard disks but comment far less often about the complexity that increased computing capacity generates. As price points drop and advances in computing give users the capacity to accomplish more, the infrastructure needed to support new applications inevitably becomes more complex. This trend is also apparent in the storage market, as data replication and disk-mirroring technology enter small enterprises and the small corners of larger organizations.

Data replication and disk mirroring can be essential technologies in any company's business continuity and disaster-recovery strategies. Data replication and disk-mirroring technologies make two copies of all data. Consequently, if a primary system fails, the mirrored system can take over from the point of failure without interrupting business. And if a disaster occurs, the mirrored data exists to be placed into service. Data replication and mirroring technologies don't replace adequate backup processes. Backup generally involves making periodic copies of data so that if anything unexpected happens, the data can be recovered. Large environments that produce crucial data have long used data replication and disk-mirroring technologies. In the past, replication and mirroring technologies haven't played a large part in smaller installations in which data isn't particularly sensitive. The reason for this state of affairs is simple--cost. Installing a mirrored system raises the hardware and software investment considerably.

But data replication implementations are now starting to move beyond large-enterprise strongholds and are making their way into departmental settings and smaller companies for two reasons--cost and awareness. New technology is making large-scale data replication more affordable. For example, start-up storage vendor Global Storage Technologies (GST) released a line of tape products that automatically make a mirrored copy of the data on IBM iSeries servers. And, NSI Software, a leader in the Windows-based data replication niche, released a product aimed at departments with Network Attached Storage (NAS) systems. According to market researcher IDC, the low-end Windows Powered NAS (WPNAS) is the fastest growing segment of the overall NAS market.

The second factor driving widespread adoption of data replication and mirroring technologies is awareness. "There is a growing awareness of the need for protection," said Bob Guilbert, vice president of marketing and business development at NSI. This growing awareness stems from the events of September 11, which have driven home the idea that bad things can happen quite suddenly and unexpectedly, so businesses need to be prepared.

Companies also increasingly realize the importance of minimizing downtime and data loss when systems such as Microsoft Exchange Server or Microsoft SQL Server crash. Companies today consider a wider variety of data and data types as mission critical. At the same time, the recovery window that companies are willing to tolerate is shrinking. Companies that once were satisfied with a 2-hour recovery window can no longer tolerate even 30 minutes of downtime.

Although the increased popularity of data replication and mirroring technologies means that information infrastructures are becoming more robust and less susceptible to failure, it also means that administrators must set policies and manage a more complex infrastructure. Unfortunately, a troubling new survey released by AmeriVault, an online backup process provider, indicates that companies aren't instituting those policies as expeditiously as they should. In the survey of 114 companies across a variety of industries, a worrisome 45 percent didn't even take the rudimentary precaution of storing backup tapes offsite.

Instituting a hardy data replication and data-mirroring infrastructure is increasingly affordable and cost-effective for a larger community of companies. In order for all companies to realize the potential payoff of their investments, they must increase the sophistication with which they manage their systems.

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