The Future Of Backup And Recovery

I've got backup on the brain. I guess this isn't an unusual occurrence for me, but it's also been bolstered by a week at Symantec Vision, a week at EMC World, as well as backup announcements about IBM's data protection hardware and CommVault's PC backup enhancements not to mention the flurry of cloud backup news this week from Trend Micro, CA Technologies, and Carbonite. All of this has gotten me thinking about the future of backup... we've come a long way from simple agent-based backup and recovery. Backup is just one piece in an ever-increasingly complicated puzzle we call continuity. If backup software vendors want to stay relevant they're going to need to offer a lot more than just backup in their "data protection" suites.

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How Resilient Is Your Cloud Service Provider?

Recent outages from Amazon and Google have got me thinking about resiliency in the cloud. When you use a cloud service, whether you are consuming an application (backup, CRM, email, etc), or just using raw compute or storage, how is that data being protected? A lot of companies assume that the provider is doing regular backups, storing data in geographically redundant locations or even have a hot site somewhere with a copy of your data. Here's a hint: ASSUME NOTHING. Your cloud provider isn't in charge of your disaster recovery plan, YOU ARE!

Yes, several cloud providers are offering a fair amount of resiliency built in, but not all of them, so it's important to ask. Even within a single provider, there are different policies depending on the service, for example, Amazon Web Services, which has different policies for EC2 (users are responsible for their own failover between zones) and S3 (data is automatically replicated between zones in the same geo). Here is a short list of questions I would ask your provider about their resiliency:

  • Can I audit your BC/DR plans?
    • Can I review your BC/DR planning documents?
  • Geographically, where are your recovery centers located?
    • In the event of a failure at one site, what happens to my data?
    • Can you guarantee that my data will not be moved outside of my country/region in the event of a disaster?
  • What kinds of service-levels can you guarantee during a disaster?
    • What are my expected/guaranteed recovery time objective (RTO) and recovery point objective (RPO)?
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The Essential Metrics For Infrastructure And Operations

One thing that I’ve found in common across infrastructure and operations groups of all shapes and sizes is that they are continually searching for the ideal set of key performance indicators. A set of metrics that perfectly measures their infrastructure, demonstrates the excellence of their operations, but are still simple and cheap to collect. At least once a week I speak with a client searching for the holy grail of metrics, hopeful that I hold that coveted knowledge. They’re inevitably disappointed to find out that I don’t know what the best set of metrics is, and that I truly think that it doesn’t exist! Sorry if I’m bursting your bubble, but there is no essential set of metrics for all infrastructure and operations organizations. What makes sense for one organization to measure may be completely useless for another organization. What may be very simple to collect at one company is nearly impossible at another.

While I don’t believe in the myth of a single set of perfect metrics for all organizations, I do think it is valuable to learn from other organizations what they are measuring in order to compare them to your own metrics (and maybe steal some of theirs), which is why I am gathering a list of metrics from infrastructure and operations groups globally in order to form a database of metrics. Once we have a good number of metrics on this list, I will work to consolidate them down to the most commonly cited metrics and collect a benchmark on them. We’re calling this project “Forrester's Consensus Metrics For Infrastructure & Operations” and I really hope you’ll consider contributing to it because we can’t do this without your input.

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Why Recovery Time Objectives (RTOs) Can Be Misleading

“Are you on the business side or the IT side?” was a question I received maybe a half dozen times last month while I was attending the Disaster Recovery Journal Fall World in San Diego.  This question really got me thinking—everyone at the conference worked in business continuity (BC) and/or disaster recovery (DR), but there was a definite divide between those who reported into IT departments and those who reported into the business. For the most part, these divisions fell along the lines of those who reported into IT had a DR focus and those who reported into the business (or perhaps into security and risk) had a BC focus. Attending the different breakout sessions across both domains I noted the good news: both groups speak the same language: RTO, RPO, availability, downtime, resilience, etc. The bad news is that I’m not sure we’re all using the same dictionary.

Two of the business-focused sessions I attended pointed out a troubling difference in the way IT and the business interpret one of the simplest of BC/DR terms: RTO. What is RTO? Simply put, it is the time to recover a service after an outage. This seems straightforward enough, but let’s breaks out how a business and an IT professional might understand RTO:

  • Business: The maximum amount of time that my service can be unavailable.
  • IT: The amount of time it takes to recover that service.
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Replication For Continuity: Myths And Realities

Over the past several months, I've been receiving a lot of questions about replication for continuity and recovery. One thing I've noticed, however, is that there is a lot of confusion around replication and its uses. To combat this, my colleague Stephanie Balaouras and I recently put out a research report called "The Past, Present, And Future Of Replication" where we outlined the different types of replication and their use cases. In addition to that, I thought it would be good to get some of the misconceptions about replication cleared up:

Myth: Replication is the same as high availability
Reality: Replication can help to enable high availability and disaster recovery, but it is not a solution in and of itself. In the case of an outage, simply having another copy of the data at an alternate site isn't going to help if you don't have a failover strategy or solution. Some host-based replication products come with integrated failover and failback capabilities. 

Myth: Replication is too expensive
Reality: It's true that traditionally array-based replication has been expensive due to the fact that it requires like-to-like storage and additional licensing fees. However, two factors have mitigated this expense: 1) several storage vendors are no longer charging an extra licensing fee for replication; and 2) there are several alternatives to array-based replication that allow you to use heterogeneous storage and come at a significantly lower acquisition cost. Replication products fall into one of four categories (roughly from most to least expensive):

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Levittown Data Centers All The Rage This Month

In the late 1940s, William Levitt came up with the idea of pre-fabricated homes that could be mass-produced and shipped to suburbs across the US providing cheap and efficient housing. Towns built using these pre-fabricated houses were dubbed Levittowns, and are now known for their drab monotony. In my opinion, pre-fabricated homes were a flop, but the idea of pre-fabricated “Levittown-esque” data centers is brilliant!

And I’m not alone--HP and Colt are just two of the latest providers to jump on the pre-fabricated data center bandwagon this month. Other vendors such as Digital Realty Trust, APC, and IBM have also been offering similar solutions for a while now, but the solutions appear to be a bit more custom-made than the recent announcements by HP and Colt.

The pre-fabricated data center modules are built out in around 750-800kw units and are fitted together like Legos (HP’s even looks like Legos!). Many modular data centers can be linked together (and Colt’s can also stack vertically) to build out a much larger space.

Why should you care about these pre-fabricated data center offerings? Well, they make the whole process of building your own data center much cheaper and faster. Some of the benefits I can see include:

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Wait! Don't Throw Out Those Sun STK Libraries Yet . . . Oracle Lays Out Their Tape Roadmap

It's been a little over a year now since it was announced that Oracle would buy Sun, and in the intervening time, there has been a great deal of speculation over what would happen to Sun's storage division. I know I've been waiting with bated breath (ok, that might be a BIT strong) to find out what the future of Sun storage would be, and now we have at least a small nugget of information (Oracle has been frustratingly mum on the topic since the acquisition). As you might have guessed, there is good news and there is bad news for Sun storage customers:

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Disaster Recovery And Backup In A Virtual World: Key Takeaways For I&O Professionals From Interop Las Vegas 2010

During Interop, I attended two sessions on disaster recovery and backup in the virtual world, topics that are near and dear to my heart and also top of mind for infrastructure and operations professionals (judging by the number of inquiries we get on those topics). First up was How Virtualization Can Enable and Improve Disaster Recovery for Any Sized Business which was very interesting (and very well attended). The panel was moderated by Barb Goldworm, President and Chief Analyst, FOCUS, and the panelists were: George Pradel, Director of Strategic Alliances, Vizioncore; Joel McKelvey, Technical Alliance Manager, NetApp; Lynn Shourds, Senior Manager, Virtualization Solutions, Double-Take Software; and Azmir Mohamed, Sr. Product Manager, Business Continuity Solutions, VMware.

Barb kicked off the session with some statistics on disaster recovery that can help people build the business case for it: 40% of business that were shut down for 3 days, failed in 3 years. She also cautioned that you have to test DR regularly and under unexpected circumstances.

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Building The Business Case For Data Center Transformation: Key Takeaways For I&O Professionals From Interop Las Vegas 2010

During Interop, I've been bouncing around between the tracks, going to sessions in both the data center and the virtualization tracks. I’ve learned a lot of interesting stuff that I would like to share with you all! The first data center session of day one was: Bridging the C-Suite Gap: How To Build The Business Case For Data Center Transformation with Brooks Esser, Worldwide Lead, CIO Agenda at HP.

Brooks started out by demystifying the role of today's CIO for infrastructure and operations professionals. CIOS are measured in three ways:

  1. Accelerating business growth.
  2. Lowering costs.
  3. Mitigating risks.

As much as they are technologists, CIOs are now also business people… they need to understand the business, management, and technology priorities:

  • Their goals in the business are to improve operations and process.
  • In management, their objectives are to link IT and the business and to reduce ops costs.
  • It's become the job of the infrastructure and operations professional to take those technology priorities and link them back to the priorities of your CIO and their business priorities.

"As soon as you can talk about management and business priorities, you can talk to the CIO about the technology projects you want to drive."

HP has a defined methodology for building any business case, which has three simple steps:

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Day Two At Forrester's Infrastructure and Operations Forum 2010

Sorry for the delay here, folks (I know you've been waiting with bated breath for the day two roundup), so let's just get right to it!

Rob Whiteley kicked off the day with a recap and then introduced Galen Schreck, who spoke about how IT is like a sandwich... get ready for a bunch more food analogies.

Re-Building Your IT Capabilities For Future Growth
Galen Schreck, Principal Analyst, Forrester

  • Business capabilities don't change too much over time; will a pizza place need to add fighter jets?
  • IT capabilities change much faster, so do user expectations... the pizza place might need to add web based ordering, robots who deliver the pizza, etc.
  • Important: standardize on IT capabilities, not just on technologies

Steps for moving from being an average company to an agile company:

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