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Backup software: Avoiding integration problems

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).

Once you've made a purchase commitment, it's time to get your new backup software up and running. Although the process of installation and integration may seem simple enough, getting the backup software to run properly in your live environment can sometimes prove problematic. There's no substitute for first-hand experience, so comprehensive lab testing is always recommended, especially if any initial comparative testing was light. Analysts and users agree that operational testing is an ideal way to check a product's performance and identify any compatibility issues that might be corrected before general deployment (e.g., operating system updates, application patches, agent updates and so on). "You usually don't find these things when you buy it," says Brian Babineau, analyst at the Enterprise Strategy Group. "You usually find out when you're starting to install it." Limited lab deployment is also an ideal opportunity for the vendor to train IT staff in the details of product setup and optimization. After the initial testing and training, there are some additional tips that can help your integration process:

Run the new backup software in parallel. Backup serves a crucial role in the enterprise, so old backup systems should not be abandoned immediately. Analysts suggest that backup users integrate their new backup product along side of existing backup systems wherever possible -- starting with limited coverage, such as database backups and systematically expanding new backup deployment until the old backup system is completely phased out. "Do your best to do a parallel implementation," says W. Curtis Preston, vice president of data protection at GlassHouse Technologies Inc. "Leave whatever broken backup system you have running in some crippled mode as long as you can to give you time to implement your new backup system properly."

Leverage any automation in the backup software. Backup systems should not be blindly trusted to perform their daily routine. New backup software typically includes automated task and reporting features that can keep the IT staff informed about backup job status or results. For example, an incomplete or interrupted backup may generate an alert to the administrator via e-mail or page. "Look at the reporting capabilities, and look at what sort of automation tools are built in," says Steve Wilson, IT manager at Cincinnati Thermal Spray, a specialist in industrial coatings. "My server is e-mailing reports to me every time a backup job runs." When trouble does strike, backup problems can be addressed quickly and efficiently.

Test restoration and practice on a regular basis. So much emphasis is placed on successful backup procedures, that restoration is frequently overlooked or treated as an afterthought. Inadequate, incomplete or damaged backups are often not detected until a recovery is needed. Once a new backup product is implemented, be sure to test the restoration process. This affords some practical experience for IT staff and ensures that backups truly offer the protection that you expect. "Unless you do regular restores, you don't ever know that what's on that tape is working," says Al Zaccario, director of hotel technology for property management firm New Castle Hotels. "If you're not doing that end of the cycle and restoring a test file on a monthly basis, you might as well not have anything at all."

Check for agents and keep them current. Some backup products rely on the use of agents to deliver data from specific application servers. Users note the importance of agents and cite the need to keep agents updated, especially when generating backups within a specific application. "Most software won't let you do a backup of that [SQL] database without a specific agent for that database," Zaccario says. When purchasing backup software, be sure to acquire the agent(s) needed to backup key applications. Patches or updates to the backup software may also require updates to the agents. Otherwise, critical data may not be backed up properly, if at all.

Schedule backups at the most opportune time(s). Backup software typically will not copy files that are open or in use. Consequently, most backups are performed during off hours -- usually at night or over weekends -- while the fewest users are accessing documents, spreadsheets and other common file types. This ensures that the maximum number of files is adequately saved to backup -- an important consideration since a very high percentage of file restorations are called for data less then seven days old. Since large backups can be quite time consuming, proper scheduling should always figure into a backup scheme. While this may not seem like an integration concern, the performance and behaviors of a new backup product will inevitably impact backup scheduling.

Know how to get service and support if necessary. It is always prudent to educate an IT staff in their new backup application, but most personnel never become backup software experts. When problems arise, users often turn to the vendor for engineering assistance and problem resolution. It's important to gauge the vendor's technical expertise during the purchase phase, and know how to utilize that expertise when needed. "I don't buy a piece of software without a support contract," Wilson says. "I think service is absolutely a critical piece when selecting a vendor."

Go to the next part of this article: Backup software: What is the best backup software product?

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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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