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Data protection: Implement now, avoid the bad press later

Jerome Wendt provides some insight into the different data protection technologies available, the risks associated with each one and insight into how to proceed with the different technologies available.

The topic of data protection is rarely glamorized -- either in the press or in the office. It is one of those tasks that when performed well, no one seems to know about it or care. However, if it is done poorly, everyone hears about it, usually when a crisis is occurring. So, when asked to blog on the topic of data protection, my initial reaction was one of uncertainty. How does one transform a topic viewed as problematic into one that both helps individuals solve technical problems and create opportunities for themselves within the company they work? In that vein, I had a few thoughts on the subject.

First, protecting the applications that help to run a business and keep the data recoverable is vital. Until one understands how these applications work and what drives them, it is hard to understand how the business operates at its most basic level. While data protection software does not provide insight into the applications themselves, those who protect the application data should develop a sense of which application data is more critical to protect and recover. That should be a tip-off to where they can and should focus their energy. It only takes an individual saving a critical application once to pay huge dividends and result in being noticed as someone who does a good job.

Second, until your company solves their data protection problems, you will never be able to move on to dealing with the larger, more strategic problems that data centers face. I have thought for a long time that virtualizing storage at the network level in storage networks is a necessary first step to transforming them into a more manageable enterprise. When everyone is trying to figure out why the failure of last night's backup resulted in not being able to recover a mission-critical application, it is hard to find the time or audience to debate where to virtualize storage, and how it can help protect your data. However, if you are able to restore the data with minimal impact, you may find you gain the attention of the right individuals and begin a dialog about solving the larger problems that data centers face.

A final reason is that data protection is to storage administration what oil changes are to auto maintenance. It is often assumed that there are simple rules you need to follow and that if you follow them, you can rest assured that your data, like your automobile, is protected. However, that conventional wisdom of running incremental backups daily and full backups weekly is changing. Newer technologies like continuous data protection (CDP), virtual tape libraries (VTL), data deduplication and single-instance storage are changing how data should be protected and opening up new ways to think about data protection.

Change means risk. Do you know which technologies are the right ones to deploy now and which ones should be put on the backburner until they mature? Within the different categories of data protection technologies, not every one is created equal. Though major storage vendors like EMC, HDS, HP, IBM and Symantec offer some of these technologies, are they providing the right one for your organization, or are you better off choosing a start-up? Being close to the infrastructure and the applications should allow one to know when it is time to stick with a vendor perceived as 'safe' and when you can recommend a more innovative, albeit more risky startup.

Of course, to even know which of these technologies to propose requires that one think outside of the box. The days of 'buy a server, buy a backup license; install a database, install a backup database agent and do incremental backups daily and full backups weekly' are no longer the way that individuals or enterprises should view data protection for the longer term.

Challenging the conventional wisdom regarding the way data protection is performed is now just another task that storage administrators must assume. Due to the numerous changes that have occurred in storage in the last five years, the maturity of these technologies and the steep drop in the price of storage hardware, it is time to re-examine all of the rules associated with data protection. As the revolution in storage networks turns into an evolution, organizations will find that these new technologies will fundamentally change how they protect their data and manage their business.

New data protection technologies will inevitably work their way into data centers, and individuals need to be able to identify when and where it is best to implement them. This needs to be done in such a way that the technology is not disruptive to the operation of the business or to the career of the one responsible for implementing it.

Jerome M. Wendt is the founder and lead analyst of The Datacenter Infrastructure Group, an independent analyst and consulting firm that helps users evaluate the different storage technologies on the market and make the right storage decision for their organization.

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