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Reimagining Data Protection Requires Due Diligence and Defense in Depth

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In response to the current economy, many companies have cut staff and increased their dependence on IT to make fewer employees more productive. As a result, even short interruptions to data access are intolerable. Most business decision makers and nearly all IT managers understand the need to protect data and ensure its availability. However, confusion is growing over the best approach to data protection.

Vendors tout their own approach as best and the “new normal” in data protection. Disk array vendors tend to promote disk-to-disk mirroring (between two or more arrays on the same raised floor) or WAN-based replication (copying data between disk arrays in two geographically separate locations across a telecommunications facility). Tape technology vendors note that as much as 87 percent of the world’s data is protected using their magnetic media. Not surprisingly, most vendor-guided discussions of data protection quickly devolve into an either-or debate over tape versus disk.

The fact is all data is not the same. Sure, it’s all anonymous ones and zeroes, but data derives its importance, its criticality to the business and its priority for access following an interruption event from the business process it supports. That’s why intelligent and business-savvy data protection planning must be preceded by the due diligence of business process analysis. Determine which business processes are mission critical and which are merely important. Also, perform a physical mapping of business processes to their data (e.g., data produced and used by that process) and, subsequently, of data to its actual location on infrastructure.

Business-Savvy Analysis

This is the heavy lifting of data protection, and it needs to be done for several reasons:

  1. Because all data isn’t the same in terms of criticality or priority of restore. There’s no one-size-fits-all data protection strategy. In most organizations, data protection involves a mixture of services used in various combinations to meet the protection and recovery requirements of different business processes and data.
  2. The diversity of threats to data—including bit errors occurring close to the data itself, an array failure, or a power outage with a broad geographical footprint occurring outside the disk drive—might require different protective services (see Figure 1). “Defense in depth” is a term often associated with this reimagining of policy-based data protection.
  3. The practical issue of cost is a factor, and one-size-fits-all strategies for data protection aren’t cost-effective. Backing up mission-critical data to tape might create problems with the recovery requirements of always-on applications, because data restore might take longer than the time-to-data requirements of such applications. Conversely, using an expensive WAN service to replicate the data of a low-priority application or business process could be regarded as overkill and a waste of money.

The best way to rationalize expense while streamlining and optimizing protection is getting more granular in the assignment of protection and recovery services to data assets (i.e., creating policies for different data sets based on a business-savvy analysis of requirements).

Ed Ahl is director of business development for Tributary Systems Inc. His storage expertise spans multiple technologies and providers.



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