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Transition to modern backup strategy for a refresh

Time takes its toll on both data and backup technologies. Careful planning and preparation can keep enterprise data intact and accessible for many years to come.

Unlike fine wine or art masterpieces, stored data doesn't often age well. As media decays and storage technologies evolve over time, critical enterprise data can become inaccessible. That's why it's essential to keep important backups compatible and available by periodically modernizing enterprise backup technologies and methodologies.

Determining the best way to migrate aging backup data to a contemporary platform depends on a variety of factors, including how much data you must move, where you keep the backups, how quickly you must move the data and how many copies you must store, according to Jodine Burchell, academic research coordinator for Walden University's College of Management and Technology.

Modern backup strategies can differ widely.

"Some organizations still store their backups on tapes in vaults, while others store backups on in-house servers or servers in the cloud," Burchell said. "The best choice is the platform that meets the organization's needs, is cost-effective, safe and adheres to security policies."

Converting aging backup data to a current format

Many trailing-edge backups are stored on tape media. The easiest way to migrate tape-based files is to simply purchase a modern tape drive and migrate the legacy data to current-generation formatted tapes.

"An example of this is if you currently have an LTO-5 tape drive, you can purchase an LTO-7," said Robert Goodwin, senior director of engineering services at InfoSystems, an IT and cybersecurity services firm. LTO-7 can read an LTO-5 tape and read and write to an LTO-6 tape.

Over the past few years, cloud storage has become a highly reliable and secure modern backup platform.

If you come across a defective, unreadable tape, you can immediately tell that the backup isn't viable and no longer functions as a reliable restore point. You can then turn to a secondary backup, if you have one, or record that the data set is likely lost forever.

Moving tape data to disk

Goodwin suggested considering a switch for your modern backup strategy to hard disks, which generally consume less physical space per gigabyte than tapes.

"You also don't have the issues of a tape breaking, media compatibility with a new generation of tape drives, finding a secure and environmentally stable environment to store the tapes, and so on," he said.

Disk-based backup systems are also generally more flexible in terms of capabilities and features, and they tend to be future-proof and appliance-based, which enables simpler installation and configuration.

Chart of tape vs. disk comparisons

Consider the cloud

Over the past few years, cloud storage has become a highly reliable and secure modern backup platform.

"Cloud solutions are great for continual backups, but the initial move could take some time, depending on your existing infrastructure," Burchell said.

To make the process more manageable and less of a staff burden, backups should be transferred to the cloud in batches.

"From strategizing the shift to making the actual move, it can take weeks or months to move old data over," said Eric McGee, senior network engineer at TRG Datacenters. "For security purposes, it's best to encrypt all data uploaded to the cloud."

Testing is an essential part of any modern backup strategy. Remember to ensure application compatibility.

"When migrating data to the cloud, it's always useful to test an integration before moving legacy apps," McGee said. "The idea is to add value to your applications while getting some experience working with new cloud technologies."

Proceed with caution

There's no cookie-cutter solution to moving and protecting legacy data.

"Different options should be considered and tested," Burchell said.

Legacy systems can pose additional backup planning and deployment challenges.

"There may be compatibility issues, depending on the platform," Burchell said. "Legacy systems likely require expert help, such as consultants, to consider all the risks."

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