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Storage solutions for improving business continuity

01 Feb 10

Secure, accessible data is the lifeblood of virtually every organisation.
It has the power to differentiate one company from another, as it includes everything from patents and trademarks to proprietary know-how and customer intelligence. But how safely is this data stored, and how quickly and completely can it be restored in the event of a disaster? And perhaps more importantly, can the integrity of and access to this data be maintained in spite of a disaster?
Today, there are innumerable risks that can have a negative impact on an organisation’s IT infrastructure, and resellers need to be aware of all of these risks when providing advice to their customers. Whether it’s a natural disaster, a computer virus or simply human error, the possibility for data to become unusable is all too real. Whether an organisation is aware of it or not, the cost of downtime can be fatal. Protecting and restoring access to data in the event of a disaster is no longer just a priority for the IT managers that resellers work with directly; it is now appearing amongst top concerns on the agenda of CEOs around the world.
Storage technology is the backbone of any IT disaster recovery solution. What’s more, there is a continuum of solutions which can be deployed individually to solve backup and recovery needs, or easily combined to provide disaster-tolerant solutions that help meet regulatory data-retention requirements.
Tape backup
The most common data protection and restoration solution is local tape backup. In the case of millions of smaller businesses, the combination of affordability and effectiveness makes tape backup the business continuity technology of choice, yet it also has an important role in protecting the business of the largest enterprises. From an operational availability perspective, tape virtualisation solutions enable ongoing disk offloads to tape that keep servers and storage at peak performance to support business demands.
The primary benefit of storing data on tape is that it cannot  be compromised by system issues such as viruses, security lapses or human error. Tape also allows for geographic dispersion of data from the source site, ensuring safe backup in case of natural disasters.
When determining whether tape backup is the right option for a customer, several key issues should be considered. First amongst those would be the ‘backup window’ – the time required to conduct backup of systems which are periods of reduced activity. This implies organisations need to establish processes and also allocate people to run the processes.
A good way to automate the process is to adopt a tiered storage approach. By implementing the two-stage backup process, the tape backup is integrated with disk-based solutions using software applications that simply copy data from disk to tape whenever there are requirements for longer-term data storage.
Outsourcing disaster recovery
An alternative to tape-based technology is remote backup and recovery using secure off-site facilities. However, secondary sites are a fairly costly option and can be unrealistic for most small and medium sized businesses. The trend is for all sites to handle day-to-day workloads, with the ability for any site to take over the work of another site should it suffer from an unexpected outage.
The motivations for doing so range from being more concerned about business continuity than just local availability, to lack of policies dictating the backup process. Investing in maintaining a second site is an alternative, but for those who are looking for the highest level of business continuity protection, outsourcing is a perfect option.
Electronic vaulting is  another off-site option that is more applicable to data protection and disaster recovery than the hot-site options described above. This service has gained a great deal of momentum in the past year. Essentially, this means outsourcing data backups to a remote location. Automated and secure, this is an interesting option for customers that want to automate offsite storage and bypass issues associated with shipping off tapes that are backed up locally. 
Data de-duplication for better data protection
The explosive increase in the amount of data needed by a business today has changed the whole landscape of data protection. Data protection has to ensure business continuity and minimise the risk of interruptions to normal business activities. At the same time, IT managers must manage IT processes and control the costs effectively to ensure the business runs smoothly and efficiently.
Data de-duplication is a way for companies to better protect their data, recover lost files more quickly, and reduce their backup and recovery costs. The technology analyses backup data and stores each unique block of data only once, using pointers for additional instances of the same data. The extra capacity allows companies to keep more backed up data online and ready to restore at a moment’s notice.
Data de-duplication technology also enables customers to minimise administrative overheads, reduce floor space and lower energy consumption by decreasing storage capacity requirements.
Adding data de-duplication to disk-based backup delivers three key benefits:
 1 It provides a cost-effective way of retaining backup data on disk for longer – months instead of weeks – making file restores fast and easy from multiple recovery points.
 2 Efficient use of disk-space effectively reduces the cost-per-gigabyte of storage and can postpone the need to purchase more disk capacity, which also reduces the space and power needs for a given volume of data.
 3 Ultimately, data de-duplication makes the replication of backup data over low-bandwidth WAN links viable (providing off-site protection for backup data) as only the changed data is sent across the connection to a second device (either a second identical device or one that comes from the same product family).
Scalability to simplify  future growth
Scalable storage disk arrays enable companies to easily expand their capacity online and to meet future capacity requirements by adding disk drives. Storage disk array systems allow companies to implement either local continuous data protection or remote continuous data replication with array- based software solutions.

These underlying technologies deliver availability within seconds or minutes.
Optimising storage for business needs
The availability of a wide range of data storage solutions has made disaster recovery affordable and easy to implement for a broader range of organisations than ever before. More importantly, it is empowering more organisations to go beyond just being able to reactively restore data in the event of a disaster, and instead develop more sophisticated business continuity strategies that are aligned with the business’s needs.
In order for many organisations, particularly small and medium sized businesses, to take advantage of the growing and emerging storage solutions, they need support and advice from technology partners that truly understand their needs and the options available to meet these needs.
Resellers need to start by working with their customers to assess the risk of threats that may lead to disruption in the continuity of an organisation’s operations. The potential cost of such disruptions is essential in prioritising the risk mitigation strategies. Systematically looking at all applications, and working with a customer to understand how much downtime is acceptable for each, is the best way to ensure that each application is matched to the storage solution that will deliver the required backup-and-restore performance.
As storage technology continues to evolve, the number of business continuity and disaster recovery solution options will also continue to grow.
Working closely with  customers to ensure the buy-in and support of all parties across their organisations is essential to maintaining interest in and allocating resources for an effective, proactive process. In presenting the case for investment in robust business continuity and availability solutions to business management, the key is communicating and demonstrating how the solution can help lower costs, mitigate risks and accelerate business growth.