Data Protection is Tough All Over

Baltazar: Just like other branches of storage management, the data protection branch has been plagued with complexity.

Data protection is one of the most important tasks for any IT administrator, and often the biggest cause of headaches as well.

Just like other branches of storage management, the data protection branch has been plagued with complexity. There are so many hardware, software and procedural decisions to make that IT managers are soon finding out that it is probably harder to protect data than it is to set up the infrastructure to hold and create it.

Tape or disk-based backups? LAN-free and server-free, the vendors give us plenty of options, but in reality most people wish there were just a pain-free backup solution for their networks.

In the workgroup class, you can take your pick from several solutions like CAs Brightstor ARCserve 2000, Veritas Backup Exec, or Dantzs Retrospect and get a very easy-to-use workgroup-class product which could be set up in minutes.

Unfortunately, the enterprise space is the area where the deceptively simple process of doing backups is getting harder and harder by the day. With data expanding at exponential rates, IT managers are finding (many have already found out) that the time it takes to run backups is getting to be longer than the amount of time they can bring down their applications at night.

Talk to your vendors and theyll say "what backup window problem? We already fixed that problem."

They then try to sell you a SAN-based solution with a wall of switches, a couple dozen tape drives, and secret-sauce software that shoots the data onto the tapes and keeps track of all the metadata in a big database.

Anyone that has tried this has probably found out that this type of short backup window solution is far from pain-free, and could easily be one of the most difficult things to implement in the world of IT.

Another, perhaps simpler, way to deal with the backup problem would be to use snapshot technology to make point-in-time copies of data, then run the backups of the copies instead of live data.

Unfortunately, snapshot technologies are proprietary technologies that differ from vendor to vendor. Microsofts Windows Server 2003 might simplify things with VSS (Volume Shadow Copy Service), but this will only help out the Windows crowd.

Snapshots themselves are difficult to accomplish since they require the operating system, server hardware, backup hardware, backup software and the application itself to coordinate together to freeze transactions and get a clean snapshot onto disks.

There are no simple answers to the complex problem of enterprise backups, and unfortunately, you cant really expect things to get easier in the future.

Senior Analyst Henry Baltazar can be reached at