The old joke, "The backup is fine -- it's the restore that doesn't work," is all too often true. But tools designed specifically to monitor and report on backups can help eliminate those restore surprises. Lauren Whitehouse, analyst with the Enterprise Strategy Group, discusses the need for backup reporting, the backup reporting tools available in today's market and more. 

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Backup reporting tools
>>Benefits of choosing a separate tool for backup reporting
>>Who needs a backup reporting tool?
>>Backup functionality on a budget
>>Vendors offering backup reporting tools

What are backup reporting tools and how do they work?

Backup reporting tools are solutions that monitor and report on the backup process. These tools usually take some time to gather information and then allow administrators to report on various workings. This enables administrators to understand what is working and what is not working in their environment so they can get that under control. This way, an administrator can spend less time troubleshooting and more time managing errors and infrastructure issues.

One example that might be useful for people to understand is if they have very timely information about the success or failure of a backup job. They can then ensure that the data is actually recoverable. It would be better for that to happen closer to when the backup job kicks off.

Media reports that detail what was written to the media, when the media expires, when the media will be overwritten and the media's location are helpful for any backup administrator, especially those who have regulatory requirements.

How do these solutions work? They basically collect information on the backup process, the systems, platforms and devices in the backup infrastructure. All of that information is aggregated and stored in a relational database. The vendors then package dozens or more out-of-the-box reports and some type of facility to extract and manipulate the data to have custom reports.

There are some basic tools that are built into backup applications. But what we're really talking about with this set of vendors is purpose-built software that reports on more than one vendor's backup solution and provides a higher level of reporting and analytics to really drive backup process optimization.

Are there any benefits or drawbacks of choosing a separate tool for backup reporting compared with using a tool that's integrated with your backup software?

The backup applications usually provide some fundamental reporting on backup operations. You might have a dashboard view and some canned reports that focus on things like backup job status or media, or device error. And if you need to drill down deeper, you can go to things like error logs.

You can also set up alerts so that the administrator knows that there is an error, but often times it really doesn't give you a lot of detail on what caused the error or how to fix it. For enterprise IT organizations that have multiple backup applications, these types of solutions really don't satisfy their needs. They might have to go between one console and another if they're again managing multiple backup apps.

There are a lot of pressures facing IT organizations so the volume of data they have to protect has placed more pressure on the backup window. We've talked about the backup window a lot in this space, so making sure things get done in a timely fashion is really important. Backup infrastructure has become more complex, especially with the mix of disk and tape. Compliance demands have also forced IT into getting better prepared for recovery audits and e-discovery events.

And of course backup teams are really under a lot of pressure to meet stringent service-level agreements and get some operational improvements in their environment. So the built-in reporting and backup solutions can't always address these issues.

Who needs a backup reporting tool?

Any organization that performs a regular backup can use visibility into those processes, which they're not likely to get with a backup application that has some basic reporting capabilities, such as log files.

If you're looking at backup reporting tools, you might be in an organization that has invested in more than one backup application. You might be running backups at multiple locations. You might spend more time troubleshooting errors than you'd like. You may have failed an audit. Or you just might need more information than is given to you in your standard backup application.

These are really the reactive reasons why companies might opt-in for something like this. There are organizations that want to be proactive about service levels or compliance to jumpstart some of these operational improvements.

Are these types of tools really expensive and what can you do if you need some of this functionality but you're on a budget?

The solutions are definitely an add-on cost to any environment. But if you look at the benefits you get from these types of solutions, it really does pay off over time. If you've been hit with an audit or if you have to comply with an e-discovery request and you need to have instant access to information, you need to know up-to-date information about your backup environment.

If you don't have the budget to afford this type of a solution, many of the vendors are offering sort of a service-level offering where it's a pay-as-you-go model. So that might be an easier entry point for organizations that are budget constrained.

What vendors offer backup reporting tools? Who are the major players?

As I mentioned earlier, there are vendor-specific tools that are built into backup applications. So companies like BakBone and CA and CommVault have those types of applications that are built right in and report on their own backup application. And then of course you have storage resource management solutions that also offer a pretty high-level monitoring of the backup process.

But the vendors that really fit into this category are the independents who offer multivendor backup reporting solutions. That would include organizations like Aptare, Bocada, Servergraph, which is now part of Rocket Software, Symantec, Tek-Tools and WysDM, which was recently acquired by EMC.

Lauren Whitehouse is an analyst with the Enterprise Strategy Group


This was first published in October 2008

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