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Backup software: What to consider when upgrading

If you're planning to upgrade your backup software, this tip outlines the things you should consider before upgrading, including how well defined your overall backup strategy is.

As I sat down to write this column I thought about the last conversation I had with a system administrator about backup strategies. At the time, he joked about his worries that backups weren't completing, he had three different backup tools across his data center, and that this was considered common operations. Thing is, I know that for many this is a fairly common situation because I've heard it from a lot of folks when discussions turn to backups. And, 2004 may well be the year of the backup upgrade, as many customers consolidate and migrate to new versions of backup software.

As customers make plans in 2004 to upgrade their backup software, I thought I would share a few tips I've learned from conversations with storage administrators in the last several years. There are a number of things customers should consider when they are considering upgrades, including how well defined their overall backup strategies are.

Have a plan for your enterprise backup operations. This means that you need to first understand which applications are the largest consumers of backup and how backup windows are set up to be most non-intrusive to operations. (I know there's been a lot of marketing around the elimination of backup windows, and a number of technologies really lead to this over time but it is not a reality for most of us that have significant long-term investments in backup software). A second part of this plan should include your best estimates on the growth of your backup environments, and how these environments will be monitored at a procedural level (i.e. what's the chain of command to determine who monitors backups on a regular basis.) Third, and probably most significant, you need to evaluate how do your existing backup environments integrate with any pending (or existing) plans to have data retention strategies in place. Knowing this will help you evaluate existing products more effectively by understanding how vendors are starting to integrate their product sets to support the growing demand for data retention strategies.

Right-size your backup operations. I'm going to say something pretty controversial: customers can overpay for backup software and should make sure that the backup package being used is appropriate for the kind of environment being supported. Sometimes, the enterprise edition of backup software won't be right for every environment, so customers need to prioritize the backup software used for enterprise data centers, PC LANs, remote offices and telecommuters. While you might be able to standardize on one vendor's backup suite, it is most important to "tier" your backup strategies based on corporate wide requirements. This also means that if you are using more than one vendor's software within each tier, it might make sense to cut that down to one unless there are specific needs to retain these vendors. And, carefully consider hiring professional services folks to come in and make sure your backup operations are going well. It is not clear that return on investment for doing this will be realized in the long run if the knowledge is not transferred about how to improve backups. It may in fact create new dependences on a third-party when it should be knowledge your own team should have.

Look ahead at the new technologies available and consider deployments. One fundamental technology that customers need to consider is the growing number of backup monitoring tools. Customers should consider the tools that not only provide reports on whether or not backups completed, but also do analysis on why the backups didn't complete. An example of this is SysDM's WysDM. Other tools, such as continuous backups, should also be considered for availability and regulatory compliance.

Last point: prototype, test and test again before rolling out backup upgrades. It may make sense in many cases to coincide backup upgrades with server and storage consolidation, or new application rollouts.

For more information:

Tip: Integrating disk into backup for faster restores

Tip: Designing a backup architecture that actually works

Tip: Ease backup pain

About the author: Jamie Gruener is a senior analyst covering the storage and server markets for the Yankee Group's Enterprise Computing and Networking Planning Service. Gruener's expertise includes helping storage and server suppliers position themselves to meet the needs of enterprise and carrier customers. He also works with enterprise customers to determine the best technology solution to meet business objectives, especially analyzing new technology and strategy adoption. Gruener's research focuses on evolving trends such as storage virtualization, storage networking standards, disaster recovery and business continuity strategies, storage management techniques, carrier integration of storage technology, content distribution, server technologies and the storage service provider market.

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