The Thankless Role of the Backup Administrator

Often times, in the world of IT, Data Protection, while perhaps the most critical factor in a company's business, is somewhat overlooked by the vastness and scope of all and IT shops working parts. When you think of IT, you think of Networking, Information Systems (Email and Phone systems), computers, racks, servers and firewalls. When you have an issue with your email or your phone system, your computer is down....you call IT, and they fix it, the unsung heroes of a business. In their own right, even general IT administrators can be under-appreciated, but where is the backup administrator in all this?

If you ask a backup admin what their job is, you might get a very modest answer, such as, "I just protect the company's data," but there is alot more to it than that, and the role itself has come a LONG WAY from the traditional "pop a tape in the drive, run a backup, and pop it out." Believe it or not, this might still be the common understanding of what backup admins actually do, but their role has expanded, their job become more complex, and they are responsible for much more than you think.

With the advent of data in businesses expanding beyond the petabytes realm, backup administrators have the daunting task of making sure this data can not only be backed up, but restored, and restored with optimum speed and minimal downtime. This requires the backup administrator to utilize the most efficient means by which to achieve these challenges, and sometimes, with the least amount of resources or funding. Backup administrators are typically asked to save resources here, and cut resources there, while still maintaining the efficiency of the data they are trying to protect. Then, when it comes time for a major restore or migration, they do not have the infrastructure in place to do it efficiently, or before the deadline, and they are the ones who get blamed.

In my line of work, I have had the privilege to work with 1000s upon 1000s of backup admins and I understand their plight. often times, they are expected to just make things work with the resources they are given, and often times, these resources don't cut it. Most of the time, this is caused by a substantial amount of data that needs to be protected on daily basis by sub-par storage and backup appliances, dinosaurs if you will. You would be surprised at the number of IT shops not evolving with their data growth, and then expecting the backup admin to magically make it all work.

I've worked with backup admins who have been pleading to their bosses for years to evolve, improve their shops hardware, move to storage appliances that can dedupe, start migrating to Cloud, and this is the other job of the backup admin. To know where the data is headed, to capacity plan for the future, and to make sure data protection is always at the forefront of the companies priorities, but in all honesty, its always one of the last areas of concern, at least in terms of funding, and it is pretty fascinating that it is still this way.

I once worked with a backup admin who lost his job because of similar situation, in that he did not have the resources by which to recover some data quick enough. However, he did land a job at a new company. A few weeks later, the previous company called him back to ask him to find some very, very critical data and he refused. Several weeks later, the previous company called back in a panic, and offered him nearly double his salary to come back and help them recover this data and resume his role.

This same scenario can be replayed in countless different roles in the professional world, however it is often one that I hear and see quite frequently in backup. Perhaps its because the job flies under the radar until it's needed, or at that critical juncture when systems need to change, then the spotlight is shined the brightest, directly at them, and sometimes, the whole company is waiting on them, literally. If the process is successful, its business as usual, but if it is failure, it can be pretty disastrous for them, and most often, they are not the ones to blame.

So next time you are talking to IT, ask them, "Hey who is the backup admin here," and let them know to tell the backup guy, "You're my boy blue!"

Anonymous