Not your father's backup

Not your father's backup

Storage insider

About 20 years ago, one of my first programming assignments as a Unix systems software developer related to backup. Specifically, I was to modify the device driver for a quarter-inch cartridge tape subsystem to improve streaming performance and to enhance the associated system-level command set for ease of management.

This turned out to be my first serious exploration into the world of backup and, last week, as I reviewed details of the latest enhancements to Veritas' NetBackup platform, I was once again reminded how far backup has evolved over a generation. At the most basic level, the two factors that have driven the evolution of backup are the advent of a network-based, client-server model (beginning with products like Legato Networker in the early '90's), and, more recently, the move to incorporate disk.

At a more granular level, however, we've witnessed a multitude of enhancements with regard to manageability and performance as well as the introduction of a staggering assortment of configuration and design options.

However, what truly stood out about this most recent announcement was clear evidence that the once lowly backup application is transitioning to a more strategic role as a manager of secondary data for the enterprise. This is not solely due to the shift from a tape-based paradigm to a disk-based model, although this in itself is a significant development. Enhancements to support continuous data protection (CDP) as well as improved backup and recovery for technologies like VMware virtualization and Microsoft's SharePoint certainly depend upon disk. Also important is the enhanced support for various snapshot technologies and other storage platforms.

Features like Storage Lifecycle Policies (SLP), introduced in NetBackup Version 6.5 and now enhanced to support snapshots and CDP, are more evidence of the elevation of backup as a key role. Essentially, SLP allows standard data-protection profiles to be established; these can be applied to a set of data and then tailored to support the actual recovery requirements of that data for its lifetime. For example, data can be snapshotted and directed to specific backup targets and then duplicated to various classes of disk and tape targets. In addition, each of these copies can be assigned unique retention policies.

The net result is that current copies can be maintained on the nearest and fastest devices to ensure shortest RTO/RPO while retaining older data in a more cost-effective manner -- in other words, an automated, tiered data-protection policy.

Veritas is not the only vendor focused on building such enhanced capabilities. Companies like Commvault have integrated functions like e-mail archiving, snapshots, and enhanced disk support, and IBM's Tivoli Storage Manager originated the idea of using disk in enterprise backup.

Regardless of vendor, the true challenge now for organizations is to fully grasp the implication of these new capabilities and to re-assess how best to leverage them in their data protection strategies.

Jim Damoulakis is chief technology officer at GlassHouse Technologies, a provider of independent storage services. He can be reached at

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