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Backup software: Preparing for the purchase

Backups are an essential tier of enterprise storage, ensuring that valuable business data is protected against accidental loss and natural disasters. Backups must offer superior performance with shorter recovery specifications (RPO and RTO), and meet the escalating business need for compliance and risk mitigation. Backup products must also be more intelligent, automated, and easier to use, reducing the IT time invested in backup operations. With so much riding on enterprise backups, it's important to choose the best product and ensure that any new product will easily integrate into your environment. This article offers some tips to help you make the right purchasing decisions, covers the most important guidelines for a successful implementation, and shows you the most popular backup software product (as voted by actual storage users).

Choosing backup software can be a difficult process. The backup market is dominated by a few major vendors, including IBM, EMC Corp., and Symantec Corp. and there are some enterprises that will opt to work with the top vendors exclusively. However, there are actually dozens of backup vendors supplying potentially worthwhile products. "There's perhaps 50 to 60 [backup] players out there, but 90% of the market is those top three players," says W. Curtis Preston, vice president of data protection at GlassHouse Technologies Inc. "There's nothing wrong with those top three players, but there's a lot right with the Tier-2 players as well." He also notes that involving smaller, more aggressive vendors in an openly competitive evaluation process can sometimes result in more attractive pricing, especially from the larger vendors). Analysts all stress the need to know your technical and business requirements in advance, and select backup products accordingly, but they are quick to highlight other important considerations:

Consider process in addition to product. IT must collaborate with other business units to ensure that backups address identifiable business needs and establish meaningful process that outline the proper utilization of backup technology. For example, new backup technologies may be necessary to accommodate shorter recovery time and recovery point objectives (RPO and RTO). "No matter how good the software is, if we don't have the right operational steps, and operational processes and procedures in place, then you can't utilize the software to its fullest extent," says Brian Babineau, analyst at the Enterprise Strategy Group. "We're seeing more enterprise users evaluate the process, understand how the process will change if you buy the software -- and 'then' buy the software." Addressing the needs of other departments can complicate backup product choices, but such involvement can also help to justify backup budgets because they are geared to meet business requirements. Babineau also suggests matching software choices to match other corporate data priorities, such as remote replication, archiving and security. The more that a software product can do for the business, the easier it is to justify.

Scalability is important for inevitable growth. Corporate storage demands are always increasing and one storage array today may evolve into several storage arrays tomorrow. A backup solution must be able to grow efficiently and conveniently as data volumes expand. "Think about scalability," Preston says. "Think about how the product that you're buying would scale if your organization quadrupled in size." Backup software that fails to scale may force you to purchase new software in the future, bringing added expense and rollout difficulties to the organization.

Data encryption can add another layer of risk mitigation. Lost tapes or stolen files can often place a company at risk. One way to further mitigate risk of data loss is to employ encryption technologies in the backup process. All backup data can be encrypted, though the cost is a serious concern. Preston notes that off-site cyclical backups should generally be encrypted, though long-term archival records may not require encryption. Opt for hardware-level encryption if possible, since hardware solutions are generally the easiest to implement and maintain, and remain transparent to applications. Software solutions may be a suitable alternative when only encrypting data with personal information.

Backup software products should support disk technologies. Data backups are useless if they cannot be restored, but the restoration process takes precious time that invariably costs the company revenue and intangibles such as lost customer satisfaction. As companies shorten their recovery objectives, backup storage based on disk (hard drive) hardware is receiving greater attention for its superior access speed and ability to recover individual files without streaming through a tape. "I would absolutely choose a backup product today based on its use or ability to use disk." Preston says. "If you're talking to a backup software vendor today, and they don't get it, and they haven't jumped on the disk bandwagon, it's time to move on."

Be sure to support the remote office. While the idea of remote offices is certainly nothing new, the number of remote offices is growing dramatically. Even employees telecommuting through their laptop and broadband connection are considered to be "remote offices." Backup solutions should protect remote office data without the need to shuffle tapes or "trust" remote employees to handle their own backup processes. The easiest way to eliminate remote tape is typically through a WAN solution, but your backup software choice can play a vital role in protecting remote data. "Work with a company that understands -- and has a solution for -- the remote office," Preston says.

Pay close attention to the pricing. Enterprise software typically carries hefty licensing and maintenance fees. It's important to evaluate not just initial "purchase" costs, but also consider other fees, such as recurring licensing or maintenance expenses. Understand the pricing model, read the fine print and know the vendor's key definitions. For example, you may get patches for free and pay for upgrades, but if the vendor classifies most of its updates as "upgrades," you may wind up paying much more than you expected. Also, know what triggers different pricing levels. Babineau suggests that a site or location license may ultimately make the best financial sense.

Go to the next part of this article: Backup software: Avoiding integration problems

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  • Introduction
  • Backup software: Preparing for the purchase
  • Backup software: Avoiding integration problems
  • Backup software: What is the best backup software product?
  • Dig Deeper on Disk-based backup

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