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The Challenge of Automating Data Backups

For many enterprises, data backups used to be purely back office concerns -- but no more. A combination of burgeoning data repositories, greater security concerns, more regulatory guidelines, and growing awareness in executive offices of how data backups and policies impact failovers and business continuity have changed all that.

The result has been elevated enterprise interest in tools capable of automating corporate data backups as part of their overall policies in backup execution.

"Backups are different today because, while data and storage methodologies have changed, many sites are still using third-generation approaches, and the traditional methods simply can't keep up with all of the data," says Kelly Lipp, chief technical officer for STORServer, a provider of storage, systems, and data protection products. "Because backups with older toolsets and approaches require so much time, data center operations personnel spend all of their time just executing the backups. They never get to the top-level strategies concerning storage, data, and backups that can really focus on the priorities of the business."

Storage systems vendors have delivered a host of tools to address the dual problems of data management and backup, and several are generating much debate among storage professionals. These include data de-duplication to reduce storage needs (and costs) by eliminating redundant data; tape virtualization, which eliminates the security risks and time and expense of transporting tapes to off-site storage sites; and various types of integrated and automated turnkey systems that address data protection, storage provisioning, tiered storage, backup, archiving, and disaster recovery.

"Many enterprises prefer a solution that they can simply plug in and activate based upon the data backup, security, and retention policies that they define as system parameters," says Lipp. "All they need to know is the recovery point objective [RPO] for various types of data, and the recovery time objective [RTO]." This type of automation is ideal for managing the onslaught of unstructured data that makes its way into enterprises in files, but a lot of companies are cautious about trying to automate the crucial tasks involved in backing up important company data. "They have to be shown what [the products] can do before they actually will believe it," Lipp says.

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