How To Develop Multi-Vendor Backup Strategy

Try to find one app that gives good generic coverage, then pinpoint certain applications or environments that need extra attention.

George Crump, President, Storage Switzerland

October 26, 2012

3 Min Read

In my last column I discussed how consolidating all your backup processes to a single application is almost impossible given today's environment. It has been months since a column has generated that much email traffic. People are strangely passionate about backup. I heard from vendors questioning my sanity, and backup administrators who confirmed that multi-vendor backup is a reality but wanted some options on how to deal with the mixed environment.

An enterprise backup application is one that attempts to protect more than just one application, operating system, or environment such as VMware or Hyper-V. It also tends to support a broad range of backup devices such as tape libraries, disk backup appliances, and cloud providers. There are a dozen or so of these enterprise backup applications to choose from.

Point solutions or backup utilities are products that target a particular virtualized environment, or specific applications such as SQL, Exchange, SharePoint, and Oracle. There are dozens if not hundreds of these products on the market today. This creates a challenge for IT professionals entrusted with protecting an organization’s data assets. Do they use a single enterprise solution or a suite of backup utilities?

[ Read No Disaster Recovery Plan? No Excuse. ]

We just completed a webinar about the challenges facing enterprise backup. We did a live poll of the viewers, asking how many backup applications they had in place. Not one organization had standardized on one backup application. But over 50% had more than three backup applications in use.

Clearly, consolidation isn't happening in backup, at least at the software level. Why? As much as the enterprise backup vendors will disagree, there are some things that the point applications do better. Although a case could be made that you have to give up some of the "cool" capabilities of these point solutions for the greater good of a consolidated enterprise backup strategy, many of these point solutions are particularly good at rapid recovery. They're so good, in fact, that managers of those applications might say that recovering their app rapidly is more important than the greater good. As a result, the enterprise ends up with multiple data protection applications.

So what to do? First, an application that can provide generic coverage of most of your environment is an important foundation of any data protection strategy. If the enterprise application can truly give you all you need, stop there. No need to complicate things. But I believe, and our research shows, that most enterprises will benefit from a few solutions targeted at certain applications or environments.

Once you accept mixed backup as fact, the next step is to manage the reality. Understand what backup application is backing up each set of data. In many cases we have found that one set of data is being protected by four or five different applications or utilities. Even the most critical of data probably does not need that many levels of protection.

Once you identify how many redundant copies of data you need of each data set and that those copies are getting made as scheduled, the next step is to develop an understanding of which data set you are going to restore from in different recovery scenarios. We have seen several cases where an application was down for hours while IT struggled to find the right backup copy to restore from. Knowing which copy is the "right" copy is critical.

In my next column I'll discuss the next step: Identifying an umbrella application that can at a minimum provide cross application monitoring and potentially provide a policy engine. Finally, we will end with potentially the best place to consolidate backups: At the backup storage device.

About the Author(s)

George Crump

President, Storage Switzerland

George Crump is president and founder of Storage Switzerland, an IT analyst firm focused on the storage and virtualization segments. With 25 years of experience designing storage solutions for datacenters across the US, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS, and SAN. Prior to founding Storage Switzerland, he was CTO at one the nation’s largest storage integrators, where he was in charge of technology testing, integration, and product selection. George is responsible for the storage blog on InformationWeek's website and is a regular contributor to publications such as Byte and Switch, SearchStorage, eWeek, SearchServerVirtualizaiton, and SearchDataBackup.

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