Getting a Handle on Backup and Recovery

The storage software market has turned in a mixed performance so far, according to the latest market research numbers published by IDC. According to IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Disk Storage Systems Tracker, revenues generated by the worldwide storage software market shrank by 9 percent in first quarter 2003, compared to fourth quarter 2002. However, Bill North, research director of IDC's Storage Software sector, wasn't alarmed by the figures. He attributed the decline to normal seasonal fluctuations and noted that the numbers were consistent with IDC's overall forecast, which calls for the market to grow this year and enjoy double digit growth rates through 2007.

Replication software experienced the greatest slump. Following a steep decline from 2000 to 2002, replication software revenues shrank an additional 11 percent in first quarter 2003. Revenues generated by Storage Resource Management (SRM) software also fell. Within this generally slack market however, backup and archiving solutions remain the largest sector of the market.

Storage software vendors currently face several challenges. The first, of course, is budget. With tight IT spending and many companies continuing to focus on consolidating resources, storage specialists find it difficult to make the case for investing in technology that many executives view as essentially an insurance policy.

The second challenge facing storage software vendors is lethargy. Once a company's IT staff has backup, business continuity, and disaster-recovery plans in place, a tendency sets in to believe that no other preparation is required, and the company can move on and invest in other areas. The overall feeling within many companies is that if any system doesn't seem broken, why invest to fix it? Ironically, disaster-recovery specialists argue that the longer a company has a disaster-recovery plan in place, the more likely the plan is to fail when needed.

The third software vendor challenge is complexity. As new storage technologies are released, storage infrastructure becomes increasingly complex. Although industry analysts argue that increased complexity will become a driving force behind the proliferation of SRM software solutions, growing complexity has also led to new ideas about how best to manage storage. Before adopting SRM tools, storage administrators have to sort through many new concepts before they understand which solution is right for their setting.

The fourth challenge involves Human Resources (HR). Two apparently contradictory hiring patterns often emerge in technical areas undergoing rapid change. First, experienced IT professionals are necessary to help companies stay abreast of changes in storage technology and to evaluate new hardware and software. Second, the storage sector attracts people who are new to and inexperienced in the technology and who don't have the necessary background to make informed decisions. Experienced people need to meet the challenge to stay abreast and evaluate all the new hardware, software, and ideas, and the sector attracts many new people who have to get up to speed rapidly.

To help any IT administrator better understand backup recovery concepts and technology, I recommend "The Backup Book" (Schaser-Vartan, 2003) by Dorian J. Cougias, E. L. Heiberger, and Karsten Koop. Part of the Network Frontiers Field Manual series, the book's third edition was published this summer. The book features a broad overview of what can go wrong in a computer infrastructure from the desktop to the data center, and what steps administrators can take both to guard against problems and recover when things go wrong. The authors also introduce and clearly explain the basic terminology associated with storage infrastructure.

I found Chapter 2 to be one of the most useful chapters. In this chapter, the authors explain how to cost-justify a backup plan. They write that the goal is to be able to translate technical problems into organizational costs and benefits. They then offer guidance on negotiating that translation process. They help readers distinguish between different kinds of disasters and offer checklists and worksheets designed to help calculate different problems' costs. For example, the authors suggest that the first key metric in calculating the cost of a system failure is how many jobs are lost and what would be the cost of recreating those jobs.

From that starting point, the authors systematically add other costs in, such as lost sales or workers who must sit idly while systems administrators must redo work. By following the authors' methodology, you can make a compelling case for a significant investment in backup and recovery technologies.

"The Backup Book" isn't limited to storage solutions but also covers a wide range of problems that occur such as desktop crashes and application failures. "The Backup Book" helps IT administrators more clearly think through the problems they face and helps them select solutions they believe will address their specific needs.

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