Q&A: Protecting Growing Data Volumes

Data protection challenges grow as data volumes grow. We examine the best practices IT can follow to maximize data protection.

With growing data volumes and expanding backup windows, IT is facing ever-greater data protection challenges. Sepaton recently conducted a survey of enterprises (defined as those with at least 1000 employees and 50 terabytes of primary data to protect). The company recently released the findings of 145 qualified respondents. To discuss the results of that survey, and what best practices IT can follow to address data protection challenges, we spoke with Mike Worhach.

Enterprise Strategies: In your survey, you found that almost 75 percent of enterprise respondents expect their data protection budget to stay the same or increase this year. That's surprising, given the current global economy. How does IT plan to spend its money?

Regardless of the economy, companies are still generating large volumes of data that have to be protected. Most companies recognize that taking no action or adding tape libraries will cost them more in IT labor than they will save. Instead, they are investing in cost-containing solutions like VTL and deduplication technologies that control data growth and let them manage more data per administrator, store more data in less space, and scale capacity and performance in a cash-flow friendly "pay-as-you-grow" way.

More than ninety percent of our survey's respondents are either currently using deduplication or want to use it. Of those who do not have deduplication, fifty-five percent are allocating budget towards this technology in 2009.

What are the biggest impediments to protecting data?

Fifty-two percent of enterprises who felt their data protection was falling short rated "insufficient budget to keep up with technology" as their most significant cause. "Team is understaffed" rated second with only twenty-one percent of the responses. Significantly, eighty percent of enterprises reported that VMware server virtualization adds complexity and/or storage needs to their data protection environment.

Adding to these problems is data growth. How much data do your respondents need to protect?

We focused our survey on enterprises with more than 50TB of primary data and more than 1,000 employees. But even within this group of large companies, about half (48 percent) have more than 200 TB of data to protect. At these volumes data protection becomes very costly, time-consuming, and complicated, particularly for physical tape-based solution.

One key data protection strategy is backup. How are the respondents in your survey backing up their data?

The vast majority (86 percent) are still using tape for some or all of their data protection. Disk-based systems are also in use more than half of respondents. Interestingly, 43 percent expect to decrease or eliminate their use of tape altogether in the next year, 58 percent expect to increase their use of disk-based systems in the next year.

A majority of respondents plan to increase their use of disk-based technologies -- disk-to-disk, virtual tape library (VTL) appliances, or VTL gateways.

The growth of data must surely affect an enterprise's backup strategy. How long do backups typically take?

Backing up these large data volumes is time consuming. Fifty-three percent of respondents needed more than 20 hours to complete a full backup. A full 37 percent needed more than 24 hours to complete a full backup.

How are organizations trying to cut that time down?

As mentioned earlier, most are moving away from physical tape and to a disk-based solution. Deduplication was the backup technology that most respondents have planned and budgeted for in 2009. By reducing the volume of data that needs to be backed up, stored, and restored, enterprise-class deduplication technologies can make disk-based backup as cost-effective as physical tape.

In light of these results, what best practices can you suggest IT follow to maximize their data protection?

First, consider the high cost of taking no action.

It may be tempting these days, to try to get by with the equipment they have. That can be a costly mistake. First, if they are pushing their tape drives to the limit, they are going to see a lot more tape backup failures, which are very time-consuming to fix. That will drive up administrative costs and drain IT resources. Second, cutting corners with overworked tape equipment and worn tape media increases the risk of data loss. Third, when they run out of capacity, they will have to buy a whole new library. That's not only a significant capital expense, but also costs more in "housing" expenses such as power, cooling, and data center space.

Second, evaluate their data protection options in terms of cost per gigabyte stored.

They should consider the cost to add the performance they need to maintain backup windows and restore SLAs. The annual capital investment needed to stay ahead of performance requirements can be significant with tape libraries and disk technologies with limited scalability. Two gotchas to look out for: over-provisioning and full system scaling. Many solutions will require IT to purchase much more capacity or performance than it actually needs or to purchase an entire system instead of just nodes or disk.

Also consider the performance requirements of deduplication. If their VTL can't load balance backup and deduplication across multiple nodes, then backup windows will suffer and your administrative costs will soar.

Third, they should calculate the total cost of ownership for their data protection.

Companies need to consider their backup and recovery requirements for the next two to five years. Consider the volume of backup data they will have. Calculate the cost of adding capacity, adding performance to meet backup and restore requirements, power and cooling, data center floor space, administration, and backup reliability assurance.

What products or services does your company offer to solve these problems?

SEPATON S2100-ES2 VTL with DeltaStor deduplication helps enterprises control data growth by eliminating duplicate data in the backup stream for industry-leading capacity reclamation. Users can back up terabytes of data in minutes so they can meet backup windows and restore SLAs with the industry's fastest performance.

The product also helps users cut capital expense with pay-as-you-grow scalability of performance and capacity, and cut administration costs because all-disk subsystem management tasks can be automated for hands-off data protection. Finally, high-availability VTL hardware components help reduce downtime.

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