Backup Appliances - The Answer to All-in-One Data Protection?


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By John Pearring

Every business operation has data management requirements revolving around the three data protection areas: backup, archive and disaster recovery. In the past, the only option companies had available to them was to purchase each component separately. That is, they had to buy a library, buy software, and either put the software on an existing server, or buy a new box to be a backup server.

Today, these three core functions have been incorporated into a single device called a "backup appliance." The backup appliance is designed to make it possible for customers to buy a single box that includes everything, from disks and tape libraries, to software, to the case it's all housed in. Since it's an all-in-one appliance, it's as easy to use as "plug and play." Many companies offer systems that are tagged as backup appliances, though some are more complete in their approach and functionality than others.

Why Do We Need Backup Appliances?
Traditional backup and recovery products typically don't offer online data retrieval, making immediate access to saved information next to impossible. An all-in-one backup appliance answers this need by allowing companies to retrieve both their backup and archived information within minutes. Backup copies of data are stored on tape within the appliance, and archived data can be stored on local shelves, near-line storage, or even in the appliance. Disaster recovery capabilities offered by a backup appliance make it possible to keep an off-site copy of both the backups and archives. Companies that have made the switch to a backup appliance do so for the cost and time savings a backup appliance provides.

Taking Care of All Three Storage Needs
A Backup Appliance should address all three critical storage areas, be quick and easy to install, and simple to use. The definition of each component within a backup appliance is as follows:

  • Backup: on-line copy of every file a customer has identified for potential restore. The default should allow for the standard business requirements of a 45-day retention of any file once it is deleted or changed. A customer, however, should be able to set the data retention time for a file at any length, be it shorter or longer.

  • Archive: on-site point-in-time capture of any file or set of files. These files need to be saved for some business or legal time requirement, from months to years. Also, these may be files that no longer need to sit on more expensive active or spinning disks, but need to be moved to a cheaper media.

  • Disaster Recovery: copies of all on-line copied data (backup) and on-site saved data (archive). Customers can change their disaster recovery copies to one or more locations, preferably copied simultaneously. Off-site copies can be media removed manually, or copies electronically vaulted. A daily disaster recovery plan can be optionally provided as a function of DR.

In addition, a backup appliance must allow for automation and long-term management flexibility around:

  • Media: since media specifications are constantly changing for disk, tape and optical technologies, a backup appliance should provide for virtualization of data storage, allowing the media in a storage pool or bucket to be changed, migrated, updated, distributed and consolidated across locally attached, network attached or SAN managed locations. Over time, the data on media should not be limited by media decisions and should not require later restoration in order to be moved to a new media.

  • Platforms: IT departments have to remain flexible in managing their data across many platforms and many networks. The backup appliance should allow for backups and archives to be performed in a like manner across all popular platforms.

Finally, a backup appliance must include all the hardware, software and integration of a backup solution in one appliance. Optimally, the appliance should include a logical plug and play mix of the hardware components for both:

  • Scalability: a backup appliance must offer a customer the flexibility to grow, both by upgrading the solution they own, and a forklift upgrade option to move seamlessly into a larger solution.

  • Support: with all the hardware, software and integration for a backup solution included in one delivered product, the backup appliance should provide for a one warranty, one support maintenance capability.

Only if all of these aspects are covered and provided for by a backup appliance can it be considered an 'All-In-One' solution.

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