Are You Using the Best Tools to Protect Your Organization's Data?

It’s all about the data. Anyone will tell you that…data is the new currency. This idea is really what “Big Data” is all about:

Our systems now have the capability to capture, store, track, and evaluate all sorts of information. We share some of our information freely: filling out online forms or posting messages or images on social media sites. Some information we inadvertently leave behind as digital artifacts: geo-locational information shared by our cell phones, using a credit card or rewards card to purchase goods, even using search engines to find information.

As my friend Alistair Croll wrote a couple of years ago: Big Data doesn’t have to be all that big. Rather it’s about a reconsideration of the fundamental economics of analyzing data.

To be successful in a world where the true value in data is having it available for analysis, you had better be sure that data is actually being captured, preserved, and is always available. That job of capturing, preserving, and making data available falls to those of us responsible for managing and maintaining IT environments. One clear way to ensuring this valuable data is always available is to have a robust backup and recovery plan. Traditionally, the job of backing up the data collected by the applications that run business operations fell to backup admins. Often, the critical operational job of making sure backups completed successfully was assigned to the most junior member on staff (because feeding an angry tape robot is no one’s idea of fun). Planning recoveries was often an afterthought, not thought about or tested until an outage occurred.

From talking with customers, things don’t sound much different today when it comes to planning and staffing for data protection. If you are managing and maintaining IT environments today, not only do you have the traditional hardware environments to support, you’re probably also struggling to virtualize more and more, figuring out how cloud fits into your organization’s plans, and dealing with supporting all sorts of devices and services your business units want to use. The complexity and rate of change is enormous, yet in the back of your mind you know you need to have some sort of backup and recovery solution lined up for every single bit of it. But who has time to strategically plan that? Where to start?!?

As we’ve talked about in both semesters of Backup.U, your backup and recovery plan should be built with your business stakeholders. After all, those stakeholders are probably relying on the data being collected by their applications to create value for your organization. Your first step is to know from those stakeholders what they expect. Does the data being collected all have the same value? Is some of it more valuable, and does it need to be treated differently? How fast does your business expect that information to be restored in the case of an outage? Once you understand what your business needs and expects, you can choose the data protection tools required to build your backup and disaster recovery plan.

One of the other key themes of Backup.U was the importance of evaluating the tools available in our industry’s collective data protection toolbox. Our industry has a pretty rich heritage for how business continuity should be maintained. In our modern data centers, there are so many choices for how to protect and restore data: backup, recovery, dedupe, compression, archiving, application-aware, array-based, cloud-based, I could go on and on. Some of the data protection tools that we still rely on are pretty old, for example we’ve been backing up to tape for about forty years. Some of the tools such as CDP and backing up to disk are newer. As my BackUp.U co-conspirator Greg Schulz says, “You need a firm understanding the basics, and you need to keep up-to-date on the tools, and that’s what will guide you as you construct the backup and DR plan that fits the needs of your business.”