Backup challenges: Protecting large volumes of data

In the first part of this primer on backup challenges, Brien Posey explores how backing up volumes of data impacts the data protection process.

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Exponential data growth, the need for faster restores and more frequent data protection, and a variety of other challenges have forced administrators to look for alternatives to traditional backups. The first part of this primer on backup challenges today looks at what is causing data growth and how it impacts the data protection process.

In a way, the volumes of data that need to be backed up have always been a challenge. Some of the biggest challenges that backup administrators faced in the past involved coping with tape capacity limitations and ensuring that the backup media delivered sufficient performance to back up and restore data in a timely manner.

These challenges from decades past have not gone away, but rather compounded. Today's administrators must still deal with backup performance and capacity, but the challenge is decidedly more difficult than it was in the past due to explosive data growth.

There are numerous factors that contribute to the sheer volumes of data that must be backed up. One factor is virtual machine sprawl. It has become so easy to create virtual machines that it is common for them to far outnumber even the largest number of physical servers that the organization ever had.

Of course, just because the virtual server count increases, it doesn't automatically mean that there is more data to back up. However, most modern backup applications create image backups for virtual machines, which means that the virtual machines are backed up as a whole rather than the backup software trying to back up individual files and folders within each virtual machine. This is a more efficient way to back up VMs because it can be completed in a single pass. However, it leads to a lot more data being backed up because of cross-virtual machine redundancy related to things like operating system files and application files.

Retention requirements have also changed over time. In some cases, retention requirements are dictated by regulation. In other situations, they stem directly from business needs. In any case, the long-term retention of data increases the total volume of data that must be protected.

The types of data that are being created are changing, too. At one time, business data consisted largely of things like documents and spreadsheets. Although these types of data still exist today, the corresponding files tend to be very small compared to other common types of data such as high-resolution imagery and video. In essence, the widespread adoption of digital multimedia has directly contributed to explosive data growth. But, it isn't just multimedia files that have led to an overall increase in the volume of data that must be protected. Databases also tend to be larger than ever before. There are a few different reasons for this.

One reason why databases tend to get a lot bigger over time is because applications that are tied to databases store more data than ever before. In addition to the usual application data, an enterprise application might store performance data, auditing data, diagnostic logging data and the list goes on.

Another reason why databases have gotten so much larger is because of the big data trend. The term "Big Data" has been defined in a number of different ways, but most of the definitions boil down to being able to use large sets of unstructured data to spot business trends. Because of the widespread interest in big data analytics, organizations and enterprise vendors alike have begun logging practically every conceivable piece of business data.

Check out our entire data protection primer on identifying data backup solutions for today's challenges.

This was first published in April 2014

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