Eleven Points to Consider Before Buying a Data Protection Solution

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Jarrett Potts, director of strategic marketing for STORServer, a provider of data backup solutions for the mid-market. Before joining the STORServer team, Potts spent the past 15 years working in various capacities for IBM, including Tivoli Storage Manager marketing and technical sales. He has been the evangelist for the TSM family of products since 2000.

Jarrett-PottsJARRETT POTTS
STORServer

The term “solution” is not something to use lightly as it refers to a product or set of products that provide the total package. While no single vendor can be the answer to every pain and problem a business encounters, there are important items to consider before making an investment in a data protection solution.

In this three-part series, I will discuss the 11 major items that must be considered before purchasing a data protection solution as well as the issues affecting businesses on multiple levels, including total cost of ownership and time spent on administration, maintenance, support and recovery.

More than Just Backup and Recovery

When choosing a product to protect a company’s data, it must offer more than just backup and recovery. Sure, backup and recovery are important—cornerstones even—but they are not everything.

When talking about data protection, there is so much more to consider. Long-term data storage, otherwise known as data archiving, is not just another copy of a backup tape. All data protection solutions should have a way to separate data into classes that include, but are not limited to, backup data or archived data.

Backup data is usually short-term in nature (60 seconds to 60 weeks), while archive data is typically kept for six months to 60 (or more) years. Because of the difference in retention times, it is important to manage the media and the information differently. That’s not to say that the media should be set on a shelf with a label and forgotten about. On the contrary, long-term data must be actively managed.

When an archive is created and stored for several years, it is important to know the data can be retrieved when needed. Therefore, media needs to be checked on a periodic basis to verify the data can still be retrieved and used. To do this, a proper solution should be able to audit the media and ensure the data is viable.

Not only should it be able to verify the contents of the media, but it should be able to roll that data forward in time. In seven years, there will no longer be LTO5 libraries as it may be up to LTO10 or even some new technology, such as “data flux capacitor storage.” If there is a need to retrieve that old data and there is no longer an LTO5 drive, users may be in trouble. The solution needs to be able to roll data forward in time, moving the data from one type of media to a newer type of media, while keeping all metadata intact as well as verifying the validity of the data. Without this feature, long-term data is stuck and married to the device that created it.

Archive data is only one example. There is also hierarchical storage management (HSM), application aware and encrypted data, and so much more. A true solution allows users to separate this data and treat different types of data in different ways. Without this ability, users are getting a backup and recovery product and not a data protection solution.

Subscription and Support Should Not Be Forgotten

Tired of calling the data protection vendor and them saying the issue is a hardware problem only to have the hardware vendor point the finger back to the solution provider? Finger pointing is a huge waste of time and can actually cause major disruptions in service.

When choosing a data protection solution, look for one that offers peace of mind through world-class customer support as well as subscription and support (maintenance) contracts, which provide enormous financial value to customers.

For example, all improvements made to a solution in the past three years as well as the planned improvements for the next three years should be taken into consideration. This includes source and target data deduplication, an eight-fold increase in scalability and substantial improvements in reliability, performance and ease of use.

The best of both worlds occurs when all of these new features are provided to existing customers at no additional charge through subscription and support contracts. These customers enjoy all the benefits of new versions as they are released without incurring additional costs. As a result, subscription and support will be significantly enhanced during the lifespan of the solution.

Another factor that is just as important is the quality of support. If there are multiple products cobbled together to create a solution, it can cause a real problem as there is no single owner to any particular issue that occurs. The appliance model of data protection excels here as the provider can support the hardware, software, operating systems and everything in between.

When choosing a data protection solution, do not discount the value of support and subscription. Having a good support organization standing behind the solution can make life a lot easier.

Reliability: Key Measure of a Data Protection Solution’s ROI

At the end of the day, the real value of a data protection system lies in its ability to restore data when and where needed. If data fails to restore successfully, some part of the business is going to suffer, possibly with costly consequences. As a result, reliability is a key measure of a solution’s ROI.

A user may have the best, most expensive, fastest data protection solution in the world, but if data cannot be retrieved and used in a timely fashion, the point is moot.

When choosing a solution for data protection, look for experience in the data protection market—years spent protecting the business critical data of some of the largest organizations in the world. This is not a professional sports draft, so do not look for the diamond in the rough that can be molded into the perfect player (solution).

Instead, look for a solution that has a track record of being reliable over many years. The longstanding ability to migrate between storage devices as needed helps to ensure that organizations enjoy longevity on the platform, protecting their investments and saving on costs over the long-term.

Without this factor, all solutions become short-term fixes instead of long-term strategies that help businesses focus on future growth instead of today’s problems.

When choosing a solution, the ability to know the data can be recovered must be more important than any other factor. Yes, it is actually more important than price.

Users do not want to end up replacing the solution in just a few years (or less) because it cannot keep up with growth and continue to recover data.

In the second part of our series, I will discuss the importance of finding a solution that’s easy to use, why different data should be treated differently, how to eliminate the burden of virtual machine backups and why all the talk shouldn’t focus on deduplication.

Industry Perspectives is a content channel at Data Center Knowledge highlighting thought leadership in the data center arena. See our guidelines and submission process for information on participating. View previously published Industry Perspectives in our Knowledge Library.

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