New Technology for Backup and Restore

In the wake of September 11, a host of companies are introducing new technologies that address backup, restore, disaster-recovery, and business-continuity concerns.

In the wake of September 11, disaster recovery, business continuity, and related backup and recovery concerns became the prime topics of discussion in many IT shops. After the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, the media was filled with stories about companies that needed weeks to reconstruct their corporate information. Meticulous adherence to excellent backup strategies doesn't help when the backup systems are destroyed as well.

Although events of the magnitude of a terrorist attack are rare, hardware failures and user errors that lead to data corruption aren't. In fact, according to a bit of commonly accepted folk wisdom, only two kinds of computer infrastructures exist: those that have experienced a disk crash and those that will experience a disk crash. Most industry observers agree that users are the single biggest source of data corruption.

Some disagreement exists about how seriously corporate managers have considered their companies' vulnerability with regard to backup and recovery, disaster recovery, and business continuity since last September. According to Nigel Stokes, chief executive officer of DataMirror ( )—a provider of data resiliency, availability, and mirroring products—companies have invested more lip service than money or action in backup and recovery. Other storage professionals with whom I've recently spoken echo those sentiments, reporting that they continue to have trouble getting the budget they need to put their business-continuity plans into action.

No one disagrees, however, that unplanned downtime is extremely expensive. According to statistics released by BMC Software ( )—a vendor of enterprise data management and network management tools—downtime can cost a stock brokerage house $6.5 million per hour and a credit card authorization company $2.6 million per hour. An airline can lose $900,000 per hour of downtime.

With those kinds of numbers in mind, a host of companies ranging from start-ups to industry heavyweights are introducing new technologies that address backup, restore, disaster-recovery, and business-continuity concerns. For example, EVault ( ) has introduced an online backup utility that works over IP networks. EVault officials claim that this approach, which EVault will license to companies or provide as a service, is more efficient than traditional tape-based approaches. Ray Ganong, EVault's chief technical officer, told me that in one setting, a law firm needed a day and a half to restore its files using a traditional backup and restore approach. Using EVault technology, he said, the restore operation took only 30 minutes. Moreover, he argued, restoring individual files is difficult to do from tape backups but easy to do with EVault.

In addition to capitalizing on IP technology, EVault uses a proprietary algorithm that captures changes to data in the backup operations. Thus, the backup process doesn't clog the network with data traffic. The company also uses the System Independent Data Format (SIDF), a standard developed in the mid-1990s to provide data portability across different tape media and systems.

EVault alone doesn't provide a complete solution, however. The company recommends storing a year's worth of data online, then moving files to tape.

Start-up Vyant Technologies ( ) focuses on the restore part of the equation. According to company president Paul Parent, many companies that faithfully back up their data every day are rudely surprised when they try to restore it. The backup might be corrupted, or backup procedures might have failed without anyone realizing it. Even when the backup is fine, the restore process can be cumbersome and time-consuming. Vyant's RealTime data-restore product uses a unique method of data capture, journaling, and recovery designed to transform the backup-restoration paradigm from a multiple-hour point-in-time process to a continuous backup integrated with storage.

Start-ups aren't alone in trying to address business continuity concerns. EMC, with its TimeFinder and Symmetrix Remote Data Facility products (see URL below), and other major players have introduced new products to help enterprises ensure business continuity in the face of a disaster.

But new technology and products are only part of the solution. Company management still must take the lessons of September 11 seriously and invest in necessary technologies. Those that don't are putting their enterprises at risk.

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