Data protection is more important than ever. Yet it is still a complex and confusing process for many customers. Compounding the problem is the fact that there are hundreds of different tools that promise to solve all protection woes and each bring a tradeoff in cost, performance, availability and reliability. It can be challenging to select the right solution, and in this blog, I will talk about 5 killer features that your next backup software should have. While not every product will offer every feature, the post will give you important elements to consider when selecting your next protection solution.
Before we get started it is critical to understand the concept of RTO and RPO because these factors will be included as part of the discussion of each option.
RTO or Recovery Time Objective is a measure of the amount of time that it would take to recover a failed server. For example, if your server failed at 3:00PM and it took you an hour to recover the server then your RTO would be one hour.
RPO or Recovery Point Objective is a metric that indicates how much information you can afford to lose. For example, if you run a backup every day at midnight then worse case, you are risk of losing 24 hours of data. Hence, your RPO is 24 hours in this model.
Now let’s look at some key features to consider:
Traditional backup processes rely on a combination of incremental and full backups. Full backups are highly resource intensive and require a full copy of the source application, but they deliver the shortest RTOs because the data is all available at one location. Historically, applications like databases and email servers have relied upon daily full backups because of RTO requirements.
Next generation backup offerings provide more flexibility. They typically do not require full backups and instead perform one full backup and then incrementals thereafter. Best of all, they still provide the instant recovery performance that IT demands. Incremental only strategies provide an added benefit of minimizing system impact since only changed data is transferred. In practice, these offerings can enable more frequent backups resulting in RPOs of less than one hour.
Recovery is what really matters when it comes to data protection. Most backup applications require a multi-step recovery process that looks something like the following:
- Recovery begins
- Data is rehydrated from a deduplication appliance and sent to the backup server (in some instances, the data could be sent directly to the application server.)
- The backup server transfers the data to the application server
- Once all the data is copied to the application server, the application is brought online
For large environments, recoveries can require the movement of tens or even hundreds of TB of data, and as a result recoveries can take hours or even days.
Newer protection technologies dramatically simplify this process by limiting data movement. These offerings allow for the instant presentation of protected data directly from the protection environment without any lengthy or bandwidth intensive copy processes. By minimizing required data transfers, these technologies can deliver dramatically improved RTOs. An added metric to consider with instant recovery is the scalability of the vendor’s offering.
When recovery is needed, there is often tremendous pressure to restore operations in a rapid fashion. An application consistent backup means that the protected application or database is available in a known good state. The alternative is a crash consistent backup which typically will require a lengthy scan or integrity check prior to coming online.
Ideally, you want your backup application to deliver application consistent backups for every server to deliver the shortest RTOs.
Disaster recovery is a critical component of any protection strategy. Unfortunately, the process can be complex and daunting for many customers, and the challenge has only become greater as environments have expanded to include 100’s or even 1000’s of VMs.
Next generation protection solutions offer the ability to deliver simple one-click DR. The tools allow you to test a DR plan or implement a DR recovery by clicking one button. Ideally, you should also be to instantly undo the DR environment for scenarios where you are testing and the test is complete.
The cloud is a popular topic these days, and it is rare that a company does not have a strategy. The question is not whether you will use the cloud, but rather how you will use the cloud. Traditional protection processes treat the cloud and specifically, object storage, as cheap buckets to dump backups for long-term retention. While this is beneficial from a dollar per gigabyte standpoint, the recovery process can be lengthy and difficult, and so these implementations can negatively impact RTOs.
An ideal solution should treat the cloud as more than just cheap off-premises storage. It should understand that many clouds include compute resources and provide the ability to instantly recover a protected application, server or even data center in the cloud in an automated and reliable fashion.
Rapid data growth puts tremendous pressure on data protection. Often, protection architectures are sized based on fixed data volumes and growth expectations; however, if the environment changes more rapidly than expected then companies struggle to maintain backup and recovery SLAs. Part of the challenge, is that growth is inconsistent and difficult to forecast.
You need a solution that can scale transparently over time and that delivers consistent backup AND recovery performance as your environment evolves. This scale model must be dynamic and allow for the addition of compute and storage independently to maximize efficiency and TCO. More modern protection approaches can scale dynamically and avoid the complexity and cost of forklift upgrades that come from traditional approaches.
In summary, backup applications are constantly evolving. It takes time for technologies to mature, and as they do, it is common to see strong improvements in RTOs and RPOs and the adoption of new platforms like the cloud. As you look to the future and to your next protection investment, I encourage you to think about these five backup software features and how they could enhance your business protection initiatives.