I am sure it comes as no surprise to any of our readers that virtualization is not the exclusive full-time focus for most of us. Most of us have a breadth of responsibility spanning gobs of infrastructure layers in our respective organizations. One common pain point that most of us have is backups.
For many companies, backup is an afterthought. It doesn’t contribute to the profitability of the company. It doesn’t help you make more widgets in the same amount of time. The result often times is a neglected backup system when it comes to budgets and spending. Most of the time, even though we know the importance of backups, we’re okay with it taking a back seat. After all, who wants to goof around with tape drives when there are cool new blades and SSD storage to play with?
It was this frame of mind that I found myself in on Tuesday of this week. I had signed up for W. Curtis Preston’s Backup Central Live a while back on Stephen Foskett’s recommendation. I knew it would be decent, as I had used Backupcentral.com for a long time as a valuable resource to help deal with those dreaded backup problems. But when Monday came, I found myself wondering why the heck I signed up for this seminar. I had so much work to do this week, and most of it was fun SAN and VMware planning and design stuff. I didn’t have time for baaaaackups. . . Grrrr.
In the end, my boss was pumped about the seminar. I knew I couldn’t back out without getting grief, so reluctantly, I made the 1.5 hour drive to Cary, NC for a full day of backups. I knew Curtis would be a great speaker, and have good insight. I have heard him many times on Infosmack, and I know from his blog posts that he knows his stuff. I just wasn’t looking forward to a full day of vendor pitches between the valuable information.
Ultimately, I was impressed with the event, and it was far from a waste of time. Even the vendor presentations were decent, and they kept to a reasonable time limit, so the pace was perfect. I’ll give you a quick rundown of what I learned at this event.
Often times we feel alone in our backup struggles. At the seminar, there was wireless polling during the presentation, so we had real time answers to our questions. That alone was a fantastic change; and I prefer this to raising my hand 48 times during a session. From this polling data, I learned that I am not alone. Many share in my misery.
- 49% of attendees still do backups DIRECT TO TAPE.
So while us 49% think that no one hears our screams, at least now we know that we’re not the only ones screaming. I think we all know that tape is not a suitable target for server backups. The problem only gets worse as tape drives get faster. Disk, at least as a staging area, is a necessity now for reliable backup to tape.
That said, Preston points out that tape is a long way from being displaced from the datacenter. Tape is still 50x cheaper than disk, and more reliable for long-term data storage. One fact I found enlightening was that hard disks are not designed or tested to store data long term while powered off. This is something I had never thought about, and only a couple of companies, like ProStor, are trying to solve this problem. Even if we solve for the reliability difference, it will likely be decades before we see a significant degree of cost parity (if ever).
A speaker from Cambridge Computer Services talked about new cool ways people are using tape as part of a tiered strategy for primary data. Some are even using tape as a mirror for their primary storage. Of course this requires a gateway appliance with plenty of cache, and good software, but the savings are real.
Another crucial area we touched on was that of archival, especially as it relates to electronic discovery (ED). Almost NO ONE is doing this. The vast majority is using their primary backup software and methodology for archival. This is an expensive mistake if you ever are called upon to do discovery. In addition to my own experience with ED, Preston tells a story of a client who spent millions to satisfy a single discovery request.
Apparently a single user’s e-mail for the past three years was requested. As they were only doing normal Exchange backups, that meant restoring 156 different monthly Exchange backups, and then fishing for this guy’s mails. It took an army of consultants working three shifts MONTHS to do this. Since we live in a litigious world these days, it might be a good idea to get your ED and archival in order. One product that was recommended at the seminar was Index Engines. I haven’t had time to look at it yet, but it sounds brilliant!
One interesting statistic we saw in the polling data was that the majority of attendees had an overblown opinion of themselves when it comes to their own backup environments. The majority said their backups ran well. Preston’s experience tells quite a different story. The scary part of this is that people don’t know that their backups suck. They find out when it’s too late.
The most valuable part of this seminar was the discussion time at the end. There was many interesting discussion around cloud backups, AWS outage, and snapshots. This brought everything together that we had learned during the day.
There isn’t space in a single blog post to cover all the material from a full day seminar, but I hope I’ve given you enough to help make a decision to check this event out when it comes your way. I have to give it to the Backup Central Live crew for taking a topic that most people hate, and turning it into a valuable day of learning.