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Implementing direct backup technology for better data protection

Direct and flat backups are part of a recent change in the data protection model. Explore the issues associated with the technologies and which products are implementing them.

Data protection is one of the most basic functions in information technology and continues to be a challenge. Issues include the time required to back up data and the costs associated with infrastructure and administration. Increasing capacity demands only exacerbate those problems. Direct backup can provide a needed boost to an organization's data protection strategy.

Instead of using a media or backup server that copies data under control of the backup software, a recent change to the data protection model has the storage system -- under direction from the application or through integration with applications -- protect data to a target backup system using advanced capabilities over a storage network. This removes the need for a separate media or backup server that moves data from a storage system to the server and then to a storage device. The restoration of critical data would operate in a similar fashion; data stored on the target backup system in disk format is restored directly to the storage system under control of the application.

A direct backup by any other name ...

As usual in the information technology industry, there can be some confusion with terminology. Direct backup is the overarching name used to refer to moving data directly from a storage system to a target device. The term has been used for Network Data Management Protocol backups of NAS devices and is now used for block storage systems. EMC uses the term for its ProtectPoint direct backup from EMC VMAX and XtremIO to Data Domain systems, as does NetApp with its SnapVault software. Hewlett Packard Enterprise uses the term flat backup to protect data from HPE 3PAR StoreServ and HC 250 systems to HPE StoreOnce targets. For the purposes of this tip, direct backup and flat backup have the same meaning.

Direct backup is the overarching name used to refer to moving data directly from a storage system to a target device.

During the backup process, the storage system copies the selected data -- typically a volume -- to a target backup system -- usually called backup to disk -- and then uses snapshot technology to back up changed data to the target backup system under the control of the application software. The application software integrates with direct backup management software using APIs or native features. Applications enabled for use with direct backup include Oracle RMAN, SAP, SQL Server, and other Microsoft applications through Volume Shadow Copy Service and VMware virtual machines.

Cause and effect

The biggest change when using storage system capabilities to protect data is likely in the areas of assigned responsibilities. By integrating with the application to initiate backup and restore, responsibility for managing data protection and restores can move to the application administrator. The backup administrator then becomes responsible for the infrastructure protecting those applications, including storage and application enablement. This can significantly alter the service delivery model and offer customers more control and responsibility.

Direct backup reduces the capacity-based licensing paid for backup software and the number of media or backup servers. The technology also removes the backed up capacity for those storage systems where it is supported. As a result, the economics of data protection can change dramatically.

Important backup considerations

Only a few block storage systems support direct backup technology, and each system is unique to that vendor. The target backup device is also specific to that vendor's software. Some operational procedures will change, and the applications to be protected must be integrated with the direct backup systems. While the advantages certainly justify the change, organizations must still consider the risks to their environment.

Address these data protection problems by looking at data storage options that enable direct backup and the critical applications supported. Overall, data protection should be part of the evaluation criteria when purchasing storage. Finally, the economics associated with both capacity and the long-term nature of maintaining protected copies of information must be considered.

Next Steps

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This was last published in July 2016

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