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What are some ways we can meet our backup windows?

Our backups are not completing in the window of time we have allocated. What are some of the alternatives to look at for getting them done within our backup windows?

The problem of not meeting backup windows happens frequently, usually triggered by use of more storage for either new applications or increased capacity demands.

There are a number of approaches to address this with quite a range of effort and cost. Overall, the best long-term solution is to do an evaluation of what is required for data protection, and develop a new data protection strategy around that. That is a lengthy project and may have some costs associated with implementing it.

Here are a few ideas to meet your backup windows that may be workable in different environments, depending on the circumstances:

1. The time required for backing up individual applications is much less when using space-efficient storage array snapshots (point-in-time) copies of data. The snapshots are initiated or coordinated by the backup application for coherency and consistency across multiple volumes of data, which can minimize the application downtime. Some software platforms offer the ability to maintain a catalog of protection copies. Backup copies that need to be retained for longer periods of time (monthlies for example) can be moved from the storage system snapshot to a disk backup storage system or even tape. Some additional storage is required, but is highly dependent on the use of space-efficient snapshots, frequency of snaps, amount of change data, and how long the copies are to be retained.

2. Changing the parameters of the backup software can improve the time required in many cases. Examining the current practices of making full backups versus doing incremental backups can be a significant change that can help (or hinder) your ability to meet your backup windows. Many are hesitant about using incremental backups because of potential delays when data is restored. This is mitigated with solutions that support synthetic full backups to create what is essentially a full backup for restores.

3. Creating a hierarchy of data protection focused on applications and not on the storage device can be a starting point in moving to a new data protection strategy. Some applications are more important than others and deserve the priority of resources and frequency of data protection. The lesser important applications are protected on a different frequency, relieving some of the time pressure.

4. Increasing hardware capabilities is also an alternative. Faster networks or faster backup servers may decrease the time required for data protection, thus enhancing your ability to meet your backup window. The backup target storage system may also be a limiting factor, and increased performance of a faster system will improve those constrained environments. There have been cases where the addition of solid-state (flash) storage for the backup target improved the backup time and relieved the pressure. Using flash for the application source data improves the read access to data, which may also relieve a bottleneck for data protection. Analysis of where the bottlenecks are is the best method to apply the correct hardware changes in addressing the problem.

Ultimately, the applications and data need to be examined as to the requirements for data protection and the strategy includes the ability to protect data with different technologies and frequencies that match the needs. That becomes another initiative for IT, but is necessary to address problems for the long term.

Next Steps

How to shorten your backup window

Reduce your backup windows on a budget

Best practices for backup window reduction

This was last published in October 2014

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I was surprised not to see any mention of deduplication in here. Do we just assume that everyone is already using it and so it's not worth mentioning? 
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