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Remote office, branch office (ROBO) storage presents stiff challenges

ROBO storage requires enterprise data storage managers to decide between local systems, centralized site or cloud service providers.

Enterprise IT shops face significant challenges managing their remote office, branch office (ROBO) storage, whether they store and back up data locally, at a central site or through third-party service providers.

Coping with explosive data growth, improving backup and recovery processes, containing storage costs and securing data are just a few of the concerns that storage managers must address in their ROBOs.

In this podcast on ROBO storage, Senior Writer Carol Sliwa talks with Bob Laliberte, a senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) in Milford, Mass., who outlines his firm’s latest research on managing data in remote offices, describes the pros and cons of local vs. centralized storage and backup options, and also offers tips on how to cope with major ROBO storage challenges. Read his answers below or download the MP3.

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Managing ROBO storage

  • Internet Explorer: Right Click > Save Target As
  • Firefox: Right Click > Save Link As From an enterprise storage perspective, what are the main challenges associated with managing data in remote offices?

Laliberte: A lot of the challenges that we see are similar to those encountered in the centralized data center. For instance, the biggest challenge at the remote and branch office tends to be managing data growth. The other areas remote offices and branch offices report as being challenging are improving backup and recovery, the cost of deploying their storage systems and media, and the ability to secure confidential data. The last thing you want to have is a data breach that gets publicized. Other areas of concern are around having enough space to house all the storage and IT gear, the rapid growth of unstructured data and, last but not least, lack of qualified IT staff with the appropriate storage skills.

These challenges vary by size at these ROBOs. Typically the more storage you have, the more of these challenges you’re going to have; obviously, the less [storage you have], the less of a challenge. With remote offices and branch offices, enterprise IT shops have the option to deploy and manage their applications locally, from a central IT site or through a third-party provider with a Software-as-a-service (SaaS) model. How do storage problems differ based on the approach they take?

Laliberte: If we go from the reverse order and look at the Software-as-a-service and third-party vendors, basically you’re outsourcing all your storage management to those providers. As such, you’re giving up some control. So, what would be important for organizations to take into consideration is that they need to ensure data is going to be able to be retrieved if they need it or if they end the contract/change vendors; [they] also need make sure it won’t get lost, and that the vendor is appropriately protecting it so no data is lost in the event of an outage.

From a centralized site, it’s really not just about the storage but the applications. In that case, the biggest concern is about application performance back to those remote and branch offices and ensuring that the file transfers get done in an efficient manner. And, if it’s being done at the remote site, obviously it’s around managing that data growth, backup and recovery, etc. Explosive data growth is a huge issue for enterprise storage managers. Are there any tips you’d offer specifically for coping with the growth in remote and branch offices?

Laliberte: Yeah, I think the biggest difference between the explosive data growth issues in the data center and the remote/branch office is really around the level and skill sets of the IT users. The technologies they’ll use are pretty much going to be the same: deduplication, thin provisioning, automated tiering, etc. The big question is going to be whether or not the organization has the skill sets at those sites to deploy and manage those effectively and if they’ve got the budget to deploy those technologies at those sites. Protecting data in branch offices remains difficult. What are the pros and cons of backing up data locally vs. backing up to a central location?

Laliberte: From a local perspective, when you’re backing up data, especially if you’re using disk-based backup, you’ve got the ability to rapidly restore the data. That’s something that’s of huge benefit. If you’re going to a centralized location, you can obviously reduce the cost at that remote site by removing that infrastructure and leveraging the existing equipment you have at the data center. But the challenges become a little different. It’s everything that’s over the wire or your WAN costs. Do you have appropriate WAN optimization and so forth? On the plus side, by doing that, you’re able to ensure compliance, consistency and really get a lot more security taken care of than you would have at the remote office. What key pieces of advice would you offer to enterprise storage managers on data protection at ROBOs?

Laliberte: From what we see, the trends clearly are around centralizing the data. Back in 2007, when we [first] did this report, only 7% were backing up to a central location. Today, 26% report that they’re doing a centralized backup. The other area is around disk backup. We’re seeing a decrease in people doing tape only. We’re seeing an increase in people that are doing disk and tape together, and an increase in people that are just doing disk-based backup. Which of the latest technology developments might help enterprise storage managers with their remote offices and branch offices?

Laliberte: Again, this is similar to what’s going on in the enterprise data centers. Technologies like virtualization, thin provisioning, deduplication, and the ability to leverage management tools that can offer centralized views and visibility across not only the data center but also the remote locations are going to be big. From a networking perspective, there is WAN optimization, and we’re seeing more disk backup to the cloud and obviously SaaS is playing a bigger role here. Respondents to our survey actually cited that, over the next three years, they’re going to be four times more likely to look at SaaS for their remote office and branch office application delivery.

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