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Backup monitoring tools shifting focus to application recovery

Eric Slack of Storage Switzerland discusses why backup monitoring tools have shifted focus to application recovery in this Expert Answer.

Are backup monitoring tools growing in popularity?

Backup monitoring solutions have historically provided some relief for the complexity of backup applications and infrastructures that had to support many different server platforms, applications, storage systems, etc. Products like Bocada and Aptare took advantage of the fact that the legacy enterprise backup products typically had terrible reporting and management capabilities by providing automation and sophisticated tools to help IT get their arms around their data protection infrastructures.

Data protection has changed since the days of traditional backup when essentially the company's entire data set was moved across the network to the backup storage device every week (or every night). Now, disk backup appliances use technologies like deduplication, snapshots and clones to reduce much of this data movement.

While server virtualization seems like a simplification, from a backup perspective, the hypervisor is just another platform that has to be supported. For many companies this means (another) dedicated backup solution. Products like Veeam or vRanger Pro take a snapshot of the VM image for backup, journal the writes during this process and then merge those changes back into the original VM.

While backup complexity probably hasn't increased, the interest in sophisticated monitoring solutions really hasn't either -- but the interest in application recovery has. Application recovery using virtual machines stored in the cloud can replace both the backup and restore processes, and provide a real DR capability as well.

Hybrid cloud DR solutions capture VM images from critical servers, store them on site and send a copy to the cloud. This image is kept updated ready to be started in the event of a system failure -- or site-wide disaster. Some of these solutions can even convert physical servers to VM images during the backup process.

While monitoring tools for the backup infrastructure are still available, the focus has shifted from data backup and restore to application recovery. With the help of server virtualization and the cloud, solutions are now available that merge data protection and disaster recovery into a single infrastructure, some available as a service.

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I don’t know that I would say that the focus has shifted, I’d say that the focus has expanded to include recovery. When we look at recovery, the two key components are critical business applications and critical business data. Some people say it’s not about the backup, it’s about recovery. True to a point, but you can’t have one without the other.

The change in the data protection and recovery space has been quite significant in the last few years. For the longest time, it was all about monitoring and reporting on traditional backups and the infrastructure that supports that environment. Over the last several years, we’ve seen an increase in new ways to protect data and applications. These new methods have come from capabilities that now exist in hardware and applications that are being deployed in almost every data center. Capabilities such as snaps, clones, replications, shadow copies, etc have given companies the ability to protect those critical applications and critical data without the need of a backup application. But, the need to monitor, report on and manage these capabilities has not decreased; it’s actually grown to the point of becoming a necessity. Having a solution that can look at all of the data protection capabilities being used within a company is key to ensuring that the data and applications are being protected and more importantly recoverable. Simply using these capabilities without monitoring and reporting will put a company in a high-risk position much the way it did in the early years of backups without reporting.