Not long ago, companies that wanted to remain competitive couldnt afford to take key systems offline for things such as scheduled maintenance or storage backup for more than a few days each month. Today, as enterprises go global and become increasingly dependent on transaction-oriented systems, many are seeing the time window available for storage backup downtime shrink from days to minutes.
As a result, many enterprises are being forced to accept relatively high-cost data protection solutions that include redundant storage devices and network bandwidth. While some organizations are turning to storage management software to hold down management costs, in the long run, many see no alternative but to continue to invest in new hardware solutions such as SANs (storage area networks) to further trim backup times and protect critical data.
“Many organizations accept that data is their most valuable asset,” said Susan Clarke, an analyst at research company Butler Group Ltd., in Hull, England. “In the majority of cases, the ultimate price of losing vital data will always be greater than the cost of implementing adequate storage, backup and disaster recovery facilities.”
In fact, increased investments in storage to meet data growth and backup demands will be so great that, by next year, spending on storage technologies overall is expected to consume as much as two-thirds of an average enterprises IT budget, according to Butlers research.
At Washington Group International Inc., Gary Bronson, enterprise operations manager, spends thousands of dollars a year on redundant hardware to accommodate his companys shrinking backup window.
“We have determined that there is a window in our business where 2 hours [per day] is acceptable,” said Bronson, in Boise, Idaho. “Weve gotten it down to less than half an hour.”
The small window is necessary to ensure that Washington Groups European offices, which use the same Oracle Corp. applications as the U.S. operations, are not hit with slow network speeds that can occur during backup operations.
While Bronson is backing up well within his self-imposed time frame, he said the amount of data being backed up continues to increase, making his window smaller and smaller.
Bronson, an eWeek Corporate Partner, does a full backup of his companys Oracle financials and project management applications running on a Sun Microsystems Inc. Enterprise 10000 server every night. He uses three Compaq Computer Corp. StorageWorks RAID arrays and an Advanced Digital Information Corp. Scaler 1000 tape backup system with four tape drives.
To protect key databases, Bronson uses multiple RAID arrays to limit downtime. On the system on which he runs the production instance of Oracle Financials, he mirrors the three disk arrays. Each night, he disassociates one array, performs an offline backup and reassociates after the backup is complete. The third array is there to provide redundant protection in case, for example, one array goes down during the backup operation.
While the redundant hardware limits downtime to 15 minutes per 24-hour period, there is a significant cost: Bronson needs to buy three of everything to support his storage architecture.
“The business case is certainly there, but it does mean that the cost is times 3,” Bronson said. “When youre running payroll, though, you cant take the chance. You can get hosed.”
In the face of mounting storage hardware costs, many IT managers are trying to lower management costs by deploying software that enables them to consolidate management of backups taking place on multiple operating systems.
At Canfor Corp., for example, IT managers once used multiple products to manage backup and other storage operations on a variety of operating systems, including ArcServ from Computer Associates International Inc. and Omniback from Hewlett-Packard Co. Forcing managers to use multiple products, however, often slowed backups.
Today, Canfors entire storage setup is managed using Veritas Software Corp.s NetBackup Version 3.4. Steve Staves is also beta testing NetBackup 4.5, which provides additional management support.
“Reducing the number of solutions enables us to reduce problems with our backup process,” said Staves, a technical analyst at Canfor, in Vancouver, British Columbia. “The unseen benefits like reduced administration is where well be able to see the savings.”
Staves current daily backup window starts at 6 p.m. and runs until 5 a.m. A mixed environment consisting of 200 servers runs applications including Microsoft Corp.s Exchange and SQL Server, file servers, and Oracle database servers on Microsoft NT 4.0 and different flavors of Unix. These applications are backed up to tape drives six days a week on a cumulative basis. A full backup is done every Saturday.
To reduce his backup window further in the future, however, Staves will need more than cross-platform storage management software. As a result, he and project manager Susan Gaucher are currently considering a SAN solution.
“It will cost quite a bit of money for us to reduce our backup window to virtually nothing, but we want to head to a point where we dont touch the live data at all,” Staves said. “In the end, the fate of our business rests on the data.”
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