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IT Gambling With Backups

IT is playing dice with backups, according to InformationWeek’s latest storage survey. From failing to back up remote offices to haphazard tests of data restoration, too many IT pros take backup risks.

IT is taking unwarranted risks with backups, according to results of InformationWeek's 2013 Backup Survey (registration required).

While most companies (60%) use at least two backup applications, many are still ignoring key issues, such as data restoration. To wit, just 44% said they perform annual test restores for most of their applications, meaning 56% do so sporadically.

Despite those numbers, 63% say they are very or extremely confident of their ability to get the business up and running after a disaster. That confidence may not be warranted.

"While respondents are generally satisfied that backup processes are sufficient to protect their systems, an outside observer may not agree," wrote the survey's author, Howard Marks, founder and chief scientist at storage consultancy and test lab DeepStorage.net. "In fact, our survey results--and too much sad experience-tell us that our respondents' high level of satisfaction is, at least in part, the bliss that comes from ignorance."

chart: Confidence in Recovery Capabilities

Another cause for alarm is the failure of many respondents to back up data from branch and remote offices. In fact, 43% of respondents tasked with supporting remote sites said they don't bother to back up these sites at all.

Marks notes that while backing up remote and branch offices can be tricky, it has to be done. IT pros can choose from a number of methods to protect remote offices. "Consider setting up a deduplicating appliance in the remote office and having it replicate to a central site, using source deduplication software that operates similarly, or hiring an online or cloud backup service," he wrote. "There's no excuse for not protecting this data."

Despite these glaring weaknesses, most companies seem to be content with their backup practices: 84% of respondents are at least somewhat satisfied with their current backup systems, and 91% say they're at least moderately confident that they can recover adequately if a disaster takes out their main data center.

One area where companies appear to making definite progress is in backup processes for virtual servers. For instance, one in four respondents is backing up at least 100 virtual servers, nearly double the percentage that had reached that threshold two years ago.

In addition, fewer companies (73%) are using the same system for backing up both physical and virtual servers, reflecting the growing adoption of virtual-only backup systems. And more than half of the respondents (52%) said they're backing up all of their virtual servers at least weekly.

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"Since our 2011 survey," wrote Marks, "the level of backup protection has increased dramatically, especially for virtual servers."

Further hope that backup practices will continue to improve--whether they're preserving physical or virtual resources--can be found in the fact that 47% of respondents said they'd added a new backup application during the previous 12 months.

Interestingly, respondents also seem to favor old-school, off-site backup methods. While just 19% said they use cloud-based backup or storage services, 61% said they ship tapes either to a records storage facility (39%) or to another office (22%). That ratio will likely change, as storage experts consistently recommend using cloud storage services for off-site backup.

Marks echoed that message with his advice, writing, "If you're sending backup data off site via tape less than daily, look into cloud storage as an alternative."

Finally, as you'd expect, the survey reflects the growing amount of data being generated by businesses. Consider that 28% are backing up no fewer than 200 Tbytes of data, a nearly nine-fold increase over the 3% who were backing up that much data in 2011.

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