Want a Better Backup Plan? Then Forget Backup

The key to protecting enterprise assets is to start with the right objective. We explore five steps you can take to shift your focus and tackle a new backup/recovery reality.

By Greg Davoll

Stop obsessing about backup.

No, you didn't read that wrong. Yes, my job is to sell backup software, and I just told you that the best way to improve your backup plan is to forget backup. No, I haven't lost my mind.

Why forget backup? If your organization is like so many others, and protecting critical data is one of your biggest IT challenges, why would you want to minimize the importance of backing up your data?

The answer, as is often the case, is best understood by starting with your top-level objective. Whether you work in IT, marketing, sales, customer service, or somewhere else, every good business endeavor starts with a singular objective. To find the answer, I suggest you first answer this question: What is the most critical objective of backup and recovery in the modern business world?

Ten years ago, the answer would have been simple. The objective of the backup team was to ensure that the organization had at least one good copy of its data safely stored somewhere, should it ever be needed. Even five years ago, though some added emphasis might have been placed on needing to shrink the backup window, the answer still would have been largely the same. The objective of the backup team was to make sure data was backed up within the confines of the backup window. There were obviously challenges, but, for the most part, that was the objective.

Your Objective Has Changed

As the world changed, the business landscape became more competitive than ever, and everyone, especially IT, was asked to start doing more with less. Budgets started shrinking, and, at the same time, data went in the opposite direction, growing at previously unimaginable rates. The volume of data that businesses produce is growing, and so, too, is the criticality of that data. Analyst reports indicate that up to 50 percent of all data organizations produce is now considered mission critical. All the while, the data center itself has radically and permanently changed. Virtualization has become the norm, and infrastructure that was once static and predictable quickly has become fluid and dynamic.

Perhaps the most impactful change has been in the way businesses and customers interact. Organizations now operate in a world where their customers expect services to be available and accessible at all times. In this case, 24/7 is not a cliché; it's a reality. Downtime is no longer acceptable or affordable. Most organizations can tolerate one hour or less of downtime before experiencing a significant revenue loss or other adverse business impact.

This means that for IT to keep up, the objective of backup and recovery needs to change. In a world where downtime costs dollars, the objective can no longer simply be to ensure that the organization's data is backed up and recoverable. Instead, the objective of backup and recovery should be to ensure continuous delivery of critical business and technology services to end users and customers. In other words, your objective (and thus, your focus) needs to shift from backing up data to recovering critical applications.

Shifting Your Focus

Let's examine your objective. If the focus of your data protection strategy is still simply to ensure that all assets are recoverable in some form, then it's time to change your approach. The best way to do that is to stop fixating on backup and start focusing on application continuity.

That's not to suggest that backup is no longer important. Remember, your organization is not expecting you to do the same with less; it's expecting you to do more with less, and considering the many advancements in modern data protection technology, backup should be a given. To truly do more, you need to shift your focus away from backup and instead start working to ensure the rapid recoverability of critical business and technology services.

Five Steps to a New Approach

Here are five steps you can follow to make this new approach a reality.

Step 1: Know what's expected

Backup isn't challenging until it's time to recover; at which point, most of the challenges stem from the difference between user expectations and what you can actually deliver. Before you devise your backup and recovery strategy, make sure you're fully aware what your customers -- internal and external -- expect.

Step 2: Focus on protecting applications (services) rather than infrastructure (servers)

Instead of focusing on the infrastructure you're backing up, focus on protecting the mission-critical applications that deliver services to end users, regardless of where those assets reside within the infrastructure. This will require an understanding and mapping of all the physical and logical assets that comprise your application. Group the servers, virtual machines, and databases into an "application group" that will allow you to manage its recovery and backup SLA more easily and consistently.

Step 3: Become application aware

Your new objective is to ensure service continuity, and business and technology services are powered by your organization's mission-critical applications. That means you should seek backup and recovery solutions that are truly application aware and enable you to conduct fast, granular restores. Ensure that your backup solution leverages published APIs and, ideally, is certified by the source platform vendor (i.e., make sure your VMware backup solution is certified by VMware).

Step 4: Think virtual first

Most legacy backup and recovery solutions were built for physical server backup, with a hardware mentality. But more and more of today's mission-critical applications are virtualized, so think long and hard about your requirements. If protecting your virtual environment is still an afterthought, the time to change your approach is now. Consider such things as architecture (agent vs. agentless), performance, and scalability, and seek solutions designed with the specific needs of the virtual environment in mind.

Step 5: Assess your current backup and recovery solution and toolset

Ask yourself the critical questions: Has the complexity of your environment increased? How do your current tools stack up against that complexity? Are you using four different tools to back up and recover your physical and virtual environments? Are you focused on the right objectives? Answer these questions honestly and you'll likely realize that it's time to rethink your approach. Open your mind to new possibilities, and consider stepping into a truly next-generation solution. You just may find yourself saving money, reducing complexity and improving performance all at once.

Time for a Change

Change may be inevitable, but it's not inevitably bad. At the end of the day, your job can still be simple, but it won't happen if you continue to focus on backup. As always, the key is to start with the right objective. That means changing your philosophy and focusing on application recovery. It means forgetting backup.

Greg Davoll is the senior director of data protection product marketing at Quest Software, where he oversees worldwide marketing for the company's physical, virtual, and application backup and recovery products. He has more than 20 years of enterprise software experience in marketing, product management, and product development leadership roles across an array of technology companies, including IBM, Sybase, BMC Software, NetIQ, and Embarcadero Technologies. Greg holds two U.S. patents for his work on database compression at IBM's Silicon Valley Lab. He received his B.S. degree in Mathematics-Computer Science from Colorado School of Mines. You can contact the author at greg.davoll@quest.com.
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