Protecting Data To Deliver Business Value

By | August 22, 2005

The exponential growth of business data has dramatically changed the way in which information is viewed, stored and accessed, directly impacting the way in which the information lifecycle is managed today. Over 98% of all business information today exists in digital form.

Electronic data is now integral to most workflow processes and corporate communication. As such, this electronic data now represents the lifeblood of most organizations.

Importance of Data Protection

The tremendous growth and increasing complexity of business-generated information drive the demand for cost effective storage solutions and tools to effectively manage this information. Organizations are faced with the dual challenge of optimizing their storage infrastructure while meeting the increasingly stringent business requirements placed on the stored information.

If you lose your data, you lose your business. Providing access to greater opportunities from information availability via resource planning, customer relationship management and other tools, have seen data become the one of the most critical assets of any organization. Thus managing data threats from power failures, natural disasters, data corruption, accidental deletion, and/or deliberate sabotage such as theft and virus attacks is of utmost importance for enterprises – big or small.

Keeping the increasing dependability on data in mind, the protection platforms have been transformed from pure data storage, to information lifecycle management (ILM). This adds new dimensions to data protection platforms that include disk caching, virtual tape libraries, new management standards, content addressability and more. Selecting a data protection platform has therefore become a significant decision in the overall health of the business.

Data Backup in Information Lifecycle

Information lifecycle management is the strategy of matching storage policies, processes, and technologies to the value of information at the time it is created, and as it ages (its lifecycle), to cost effectively meet the business needs of organizations. Information must be effectively managed through its entire lifecycle, not just when it is created.

Data needs to be identified, prioritized, replicated, securely transported, stored and made readily available. Replication of the data is the step frequently referred to as “Data Backup”. In its simplest form, backup is a business process during which data from an original media (usually a hard disk) is duplicated to a secondary media (in most cases tape).

Getting to a solvent data protection/backup strategy requires first and foremost an intimate understanding of business processes and the applications that serve them. We need to figure out how critical the data is, where it is located and what needs to backed-up overall. Once the data has been identified it is a matter of implementing the technology to support it.

The Backup Process

There are many choices for backup media – floppy disks, Zip® disks, R/W CD, DVD, tape and hard disks. Among these tape is the most universally accepted backup medium as it provides many advantages in terms of its transportability and cost effectiveness, being the lowest cost per Gigabyte, an interchangeable media and offering investment protection across generations.

Once you have selected tape as your medium, next you need to decide on the connectivity interface, tape technology, tape format, required capacity and performance, standalone drive or automation and type of automation (autoloader or library).

Finally you need to decide upon the backup software which is the “brain” of the backup and data protection process. Backup software is designed to manage the replication of primary data files to a secondary storage medium and catalogue their location on the new medium in a database.

Dependent upon the needs of an organization, there are different types of backup including, full backup (all data), differential backup (all new and changed since last Full Backup) and incremental backup (all new and changed since last Incremental Backup).

In the first step of the tape backup process, the software identifies the data on the primary medium. Next the software identifies a tape (via the bar code label on the tape) in the library to which the data is to be copied. The software then orders the library robotics to mount the appropriate tape in the tape drive.

The description of the data and where it is located on the tape is written to the directory at the beginning of the tape and the actual data is then written to the tape and checked to make sure it was written properly. The location of the newly written data is then recorded in the database of the backup software.

With the ability for multiple streams of data from multiple servers backing up simultaneously, if the restoration of a file is necessary, the backup software refers to this database and knows exactly where to locate the needed file.

Managing Hurdles in Implementation

Data and storage requirements are growing at unbelievable rates for businesses of every type. While every organization will have individual needs to support the protection of their data, the most common issue faced is development of the business process to support data protection, the shrinking backup window and the protection of heterogeneous environments.

Shrinking backup windows

A backup window is defined as the time available for IT administrators to slow down or stop production to perform data recovery operations. To shrink the backup window, some of the measures can include installing a higher performance backup server, multiple (parallel) backup operations, moving to higher performance drives and/or multiple drives, and/or purchasing a backup software package which offers agents to allow databases to remain active during the backup process.

Decentralized data

Companies often decentralize data to provide adequate performance in remote offices, without requiring the costly bandwidth necessary to run data-intensive applications on centralized storage. This introduces a significant challenge to provide adequate protection for decentralized data. To provide adequate protection for decentralized data a few helpful measures can include be consolidating the backup operation into a single, dedicated backup server or purchasing a backup software package designed to handle multiple operating systems and servers.

Implementing data Protection and Backup Business Processes

Since all businesses have unique issues and methods of operations, the best way to attack this problem is to educate yourself. Review guides on back-up methodologies, ask others who may be in the same line of business and have operations the same size as yours how they are handling data protection

Impact of Technology

Older methodologies give way to new in the constant race to make work easier, quicker, and more efficient. In recent years, the biggest impact of technological advancement on data protection has been the dramatic reduction in the cost of ATA disk arrays. Medium to large businesses have gained the benefit of quick restore times by implementing tiered storage solutions where the backup is done to disk and then transferred to longer term storage on tape.

The process of creating a backup by transferring large sequential blocks of data, using efficient backup software gave rise to Virtual Tape Libraries (VTL). These VTLs use disk technology but emulate a tape library. They offer superior protection against viral attacks when compared to standard disk systems, compression allows better use of fixed capacities and the compression engines provide greater performance – allowing users to gain up to double the amount of data stored with no negative impact.

Compliance with new legislative requirements has highlighted the need for traceable historical documentation. This results in the long term retention of e-mail and unalterable archived transaction and personal data, with the help of WORM (Write Once Read Many times) solutions. WORM disk systems have been used for short term storage of transaction data and the archive function of this data has been left to WORM tape.

The mechanisms for effective data management are still evolving. However, the methodology for data management has always been core to effective disaster recovery, business continuity and data protection planning. With organizations currently scrambling to develop ways to comply with new regulatory requirements surrounding data accessibility, privacy and retention, the opportunity exists for continuity planners to advance the goal of data protection and to build recoverability into the storage infrastructure itself.

Leave a Reply