Data Backup: Beyond Band-Aids

With the deluge of data, organizations need to focus their data protection efforts on comprehensive data footprint reduction, not just deploying technologies like deduplication.

Tony Kontzer

July 11, 2014

3 Min Read
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Amid the steady and exponential growth in data volumes that business have faced in recent years, backup strategies have fallen behind the times. The process has evolved into a morass as data is used in ever-increasing numbers of applications and processes, resulting in multiple copies and differing versions stored in multiple locations. Increasingly complex data footprints have caused companies to fall behind in their data management practices.

"There is no such thing as a data or information recession," Greg Schulz, senior advisory analyst at the IT consultancy StorageIO, told us via email. "People and organizations are generating, moving, processing and storing more data every year."

According to Schulz, throwing technology at the problem won't help; organizations need to address the underlying complexity.

"It's not backup or the tools and technologies that are necessarily broken. It's how data is being protected, along with lack of comprehensive data footprint reduction," Schulz said. "Simply swapping out one media or medium as the backup or data protection target with some data footprint reduction technique such as deduplication is only a stop-gap Band-Aid at best."

Instead, Schulz recommends that organizations take a hard look at how and why they save and protect data. Doing so will enable them to fix the issue at its source -- where the original data lives -- rather than chasing it everywhere it's used. The goal is to reduce the volume and complexity of what is being backed up. Simply throwing deduplication at the problem, which is the approach of many companies today, isn't going to accomplish that.

"If all you are doing is focusing on re-evaluating your backup from the perspective and focus of what is ending up being backed up and the space and time it requires, you are going to run out of Band-Aids, budget, time or all of the above," Schulz said. "Take a step back and look at where the problem and the solution are and start a data protection modernization effort and implement data footprint reduction beyond just a deduplication focus."

The InformationWeek 2014 Backup Technologies Survey found that the No. 1 data protection challenge is the cost of backup systems. Fewer participants are backing up directly to tape -- 59%, down from 66% in 2013 -- and 11% have three or more different backup applications in use.

Naturally, vendors such as ExaGrid Systems, which specializes in deduplication technology, say that deduplication plays a critical role in today's backup strategies. But ExaGrid also recommends other steps to addressing data backup challenges, including simplifying IT infrastructures by addressing how data moves and is processed, and ensuring that storage capacity matches computing and memory resources for better handling of multimedia and other large files.

Jason Buffington, senior analyst at ESG, said in an email interview that companies should embrace archiving in combination with backups, so that stagnant production data isn't consuming expensive primary storage as well as secondary and tertiary storage.

"Also, companies should be looking for data protection toolsets that combine the various approaches for protection (backup, snapshots, replication) -- including common management UIs when possible, shared deduplication between protection approaches, etc.," he added.  "By using integrate-able/better-together tools (hardware and software), most companies can actually increase their recovery agility while shrinking their overall data protection footprint."

That said, Schulz said technological approaches can only do so much, and that the companies with the most forward-looking backup strategies will have addressed the spread of data by rethinking how they manage it from the bottom up.

"Organizations need to take a step back along with a deep breath, look beyond the technology Band-Aid approaches, and revisit how they can reduce their data footprint impact," he said.

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