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Back to the Basics for Storage Pros

Even as Information Lifecycle Management (ILM), storage virtualization, and continuous data protection (CDP) dominate the trade-press headlines and industry conferences, businesses are still trying to get a handle on basic storage practices. Recent research reports sponsored by storage and backup vendors show that companies lack effective tape backup and data-archiving strategies.

Tape-Backup Practices Lag
The first survey, sponsored by Asigra, which offers multisite backup and recovery solutions, reveals that many companies apparently haven't yet implemented effective tape backup practices, particularly for remote offices. The second study, commissioned by BridgeHead Software, shows that not only do companies frequently fail to establish efficient data-archiving procedures, many storage managers don't even really understand data-archiving principles. The lack of a data-archiving infrastructure could have serious consequences as new regulations increase the likelihood that companies will have to retrieve small batches of data long after it's been created or last used. In addition, near-online data archiving can help data-intensive applications run more efficiently.

Because tape has long been the backbone for most backup systems, you'd probably assume--not unreasonably--that by now most companies would have effective tape backup systems. That assumption, however, would be wrong. According to the Asigra-sponsored survey, 75 percent of respondents said their companies had suffered unrecoverable loss of corporate data--which they thought had been successfully backed up--because of unreadable, lost, or stolen data.

Sixty-three percent of respondents said they had to deal with tapes that proved unreadable when they tried to retrieve data. In 76 percent of those cases, the company felt a direct impact either through lost productivity or punishment for violating specific regulations.

In addition to failed tapes, 20 percent of the respondents said that data tapes had been lost or stolen. Finally, only 61 percent indicated that they'd established routine backup procedures for their remote offices. Of the others, 17 percent admitted that they had no formal backup process for remote offices.

Although the use of local disk and centralized backup mechanisms instead of tape can be effective in the right circumstances and is becoming more commonplace, tape is still the most widely deployed backup approach. The central issue in establishing sound storage policies, however, isn't only technology; it's also policy. Companies must develop and adhere to best practices. Companies that regularly test their tape backup technology won't be rudely surprised by failed tapes. Furthermore, businesses need to set up stringent safeguards to prevent lost or stolen data.

Data Archiving Not Widely Used
Data archiving is another essential storage practice that many storage pros aren't paying enough attention to. In a summer 2005 study commissioned by BridgeHead Software, which provides integrated storage-management solutions, 28 percent of respondents say that they don't archive data at all. Another 67 percent use manual techniques for data archiving, and only 25 percent apply automated approaches to data archiving.

Answers to other questions in the survey prove even more troubling. More than 65 percent of respondents indicate that 20 percent to 50 percent or more of their server-based storage consists of unstructured user data. Sixty-six percent say that email comprises at least 20 percent of their primary storage--including prearchived material, such as Microsoft Outlook .pst files.

Those figures, say BridgeHead Software officials, imply that companies don't really understand archiving. According to BridgeHead CEO Tony Cotterill, companies shouldn't have to devote so large a percentage of their primary storage to email and unique, individual files. Moreover, says Cotterill, 15 percent of respondents say they had no idea how long it would take them to retrieve an individual lost file, and 2 percent admit that they might not be able to retrieve a lost file at all. Since archiving involves indexing content so that it can be retrieved later by using a keyword, Cotterill suggests that many companies confuse archiving with backup and recovery.

Storage professionals are at a tricky crossroads. They need to adopt new approaches and techniques that potentially can add tremendous value to their storage infrastructure. But as they explore new ideas, they should also make sure that they've established best practices--and that those policies are followed--in backup and recovery, data archiving, and other storage essentials.

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