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How to determine if your data backup strategy has the right resources

The volume of different data backup resources available can be overwhelming. Learn how to quantify what is appropriate for your organization's backup strategy.

Data backup strategy typically has been based on several criteria over the past decade or more. These include, among other things, the type of data to be saved and protected, its criticality to the organization, and its confidentiality and availability requirements.

Today's data centers have several resources available for backup at their disposal, including:

  • local hard disk drives
  • storage area networks
  • network attached storage
  • RAID technology
  • solid-state drives
  • fiber optic storage
  • tape storage
  • off-site storage options
  • managed backup services

With all of the available options, how do you determine if those resources are sufficient for your data backup strategy needs?

Determining backup requirements

Your storage resources should provide up-to-the moment status of such attributes as how much data is being stored, how much storage space is available, and details on full and incremental backups. This way you can determine how much additional storage space is available for whatever situation occurs.

Under normal business operations, a data backup strategy typically includes daily backups (usually noting data that has changed since the most recent backup), weekly backups and monthly backups. Your data storage administrator should be able to provide you with performance statistics on these activities whenever you need them.

Chart of backup storage initiatives
A few backup resources saw big swings in usage over the course of one year.

More important is the need to identify and understand warning signs that could impact your backup resource requirements. For example, launching a new application may affect your storage resources, such as during system testing and acceptance activities. If your organization is merging with or acquiring another firm, your storage requirements could change dramatically, as you may need to back up files and databases from the acquired firm. Conversely, you may need to move your files and databases to the other organization, resulting in a reduction in storage requirements. These kinds of situations could significantly impact available storage, unless you have a data storage resource plan.

Data storage resource planning

Data storage administrators regularly analyze statistics to manage backup processes and the amount of storage resources available. This information goes into the overall data storage program, which includes backup policies and procedures; short-, medium- and long-term analyses of storage requirements; and coordination with disaster recovery metrics such as recovery time objectives (RTO) and recovery point objectives (RPO). Of these two metrics, from a data storage perspective, the latter is more important.

RPOs are used to analyze the aging of data -- especially from a backup perspective -- so that data storage administrators and the data users will know how current the data is. The lower the RPO, the more current the backed-up data must be. This is particularly important with data, databases and other resources that an organization deems mission-critical and must be the most current data available. Backup technologies such as data mirroring and data replication are essential for minimizing the amount of time needed for backups, and, thus, for achieving RPO requirements.

It may be necessary to segment backup technologies and storage resources into 'business as usual' and 'disaster recovery' when it comes to data backup strategy planning.

Backup resources for disaster recovery

As noted in the previous section, data backup technologies and storage resources are key components of a DR plan. As such, it may be necessary to segment backup technologies and storage resources into "business as usual" and "disaster recovery" when it comes to data backup strategy planning.

Business-as-usual backup storage resource statistics can be referenced from data history files, so it should be fairly easy to identify trends in storage resources. By contrast, planning for DR storage and backup requirements is more challenging because they are largely unknowns and must be carefully estimated and projected so sufficient backup resources can be put into place.

Organizations can determine backup resource requirements for DR from such activities as a business impact analysis (BIA). Among the outputs of a BIA are RPO and RTO values, which business owners and other subject matter experts determine. Once the mission-critical business process and their associated data and technology requirements have been identified, data storage administrators are well-prepared for determining DR backup resource requirements.

Backup resource strategies

Today's data storage administrators have a broad spectrum of primary and alternate backup storage resources. Larger organizations with legacy storage platforms can take advantage of managed cloud-based backup resources to supplement their legacy resources. Business requirements determine the mix of on-premises and cloud-based managed services. Small to medium organizations can also have a mix of on-site storage and cloud storage resources, an increasingly popular data backup strategy.

From a DR perspective, the availability of cloud-based storage helps the organization by enabling them to dynamically expand or contract the storage resources, especially in an emergency. Make sure your arrangements with such an external supplier allow such storage flexibility.

Planning tips

Here are a few final storage, backup and DR plan tips:

  • Consistently monitor storage usage to identify situations requiring adjustments in storage resources.
  • For DR planning, work with your internal DR team or external consultant to identify the best mix of resources and technologies.
  • Regularly test backup capabilities to ensure sufficient on-site and external resources are available and that network resources are sufficient to complete backups as needed to satisfy RPO requirements.
  • Look for opportunities to supplement or replace legacy on-site storage with external resources. You can eliminate equipment that could fail, reduce overhead and also reduce floor space requirements.

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Are your data backup resources sufficient? Why or why not?
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