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Should you use snapshots for end-user file recovery?

Is end-user file recovery a godsend or a potential disaster?

This article first appeared in "Storage" magazine in the June issue. For more articles of this type, please visit

What you will learn from this tip: The pros and cons of using snapshot technology to help end-users recover their own lost or damaged files.

The growing adoption of snapshot technology is making end-user file recovery possible. End-user file recovery occurs when a user accesses recent file snapshots to recover personal files that may have been inadvertently deleted or damaged. Some IT managers are discovering that this capability allows users to recover their own files, a chore some are eager to relinquish. This, however, raises the question: Is end-user file recovery a godsend or a potential disaster?

End-user file recovery is the byproduct of storage snapshot capabilities combined with low-cost ATA disk. In a typical scenario, the storage group schedules automatic, point-in-time snapshots every few hours or every day and stores them on online or nearline secondary storage. If end users need to recover a particular file, they can navigate across the network and pull it from the most recent snapshot. The storage administrator initiates the snapshots and the user never encounters the snapshot software. Then, the user accesses the file to be recovered by finding and opening it as usual, from the folder or directory designated for snapshots.

Users doing it for themselves

"This is a huge issue. End users screw up files all the time," says Randy Kerns, senior partner, the Evaluator Group, Greenwood Village, Colo. And when that happens, it's usually the storage administrator's job to restore files quickly so the worker can get back to the task in question. With end-user file recovery, users retrieve the file themselves; IT doesn't need to get involved at all, which is definitely a benefit.

Without end-user file recovery, the worker would request the file from the storage administrator, who would have to retrieve it. Depending on how many workers there are and how often they need to restore files, this could be nothing more than a bothersome distraction, or it could become a significant drain on the administrator's time.

The problem, in fact, may be much larger than storage managers suspect, based on requests they receive to restore files. As far as the storage group is concerned, "over half [of] the end-user needs may never surface," says Kerns. This is because the typical process to get a file restored involves chasing down the appropriate IT person and bugging him to do it quickly, an unpleasant process for all involved. "If IT makes the process [of restoring a file] painful enough, the users will do their own workarounds," Kerns adds, a situation IT generally wants to avoid. Such workarounds might entail users keeping their own backup copies on floppies.

The major determining factor in the adoption of end-user file recovery is IT overload. "Whether this takes off in a company depends on IT's ability to service users and its need to offload some of the workload," says Jamie Gruener, senior analyst, Yankee Group in Boston. End-user file recovery will be embraced the most at companies where IT is struggling to meet service demands.

Right now, end-user file recovery is at the earliest stages of adoption. What may speed adoption is pressure from compliance initiatives. "Companies are letting users define what files must be kept for compliance," Gruener adds. The next logical step after that is to let users recover those files directly.

Read the rest of this article in Storage magazine.

For more information:

Advice: How and where to use snapshot technology

Tip: Eight guidelines to Windows-based snapshots

Crash Course: Snapshots

About the author: Alan Radding is a freelance writer located in Boston.

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