Data Centers

Data storage: The word of the day is zettabyte

Current IT strategies can manage today's digital universe, but they won't be up to the challenge of solving the problems that will face the next generation of IT managers.

First, a vocabulary lesson: a zettabyte is a unit equal to one billion terabytes. It seems like an unfathomable size, but IDC predicted in a recent study that by the end of the decade, our digital universe will be 44 times larger than it is now, with approximately 35 zettabytes of virtual data needing management by 2020. While current IT strategies can manage today's digital universe, many of these practices and solutions won't be up to the challenge of solving the problems that will face the next generation of IT managers — problems that include data backup and disaster recovery. Sooner than we might like, the current rules and solutions will no longer suffice.

We're seeing a trend today in which companies look to storage virtualization to provide increased space for growing data loads. It's a step in the right direction, but simply consolidating data into an expandable, virtual pool of storage is not enough. Organizations need to automate all aspects of management related to data protection — including backup, recovery, replication, and snapshots — in order to be fully prepared in the event data restore and disaster recovery solutions need to be deployed.

You can take several steps now to best prepare for this expansion of data, to adapt your current backup and disaster recovery (DR) plans to fit future needs, and to guarantee yourself continuous access to mission-critical data. These steps include:

1. Adopt CDP. It's a game-changer.

Backup and DR, equally important for business survival, have historically been treated as two separate islands of IT handled by different departments. Continuous data protection (CDP) technology changes the tried-and-true rules of traditional backup and DR by bridging the gap between these two methodologies — simplifying overall operations, removing the obstacles of tape media, and helping organizations get the most value from their storage investments. The fundamental benefit of true CDP is the preservation of revenue-generating, or revenue-enabling, business applications. The promise of CDP is the continuous availability of business applications, regardless of any type of failure.

2. Tape-based backup is going the way of the dinosaurs.

As data volumes have grown and dependence on data availability and fast recovery has increased, the limitations of tape media have become all too apparent. And as we rocket forward toward the era of zettabytes of data, tape will become a true dinosaur. We can see the initial causes of tape's inevitable extinction in today's data center: recovery from tape is time-consuming and imprecise. It can exceed 24 hours, and restoring an application to full operation can take even longer. This makes it difficult for companies to meet recovery point objectives (RPO) and service level agreements (SLA). The lengthy recovery time with tape is clearly acknowledged by the major backup software vendors who offer some type of disk-to-disk option integrated into the legacy tape backup paradigm. When tapes are stored off site, as is often the case, it can take several days to retrieve them and restore data. The revenue and productivity lost during that period can be devastating to a business.

3. Vendor lock-in is bad news. Avoid it.

In an effort to speed data recovery, some organizations have opted to replicate to remote DR sites via array-based disk mirror or snapshot volumes. Array-based snapshots improve recovery points by retaining more frequent data changes between backups. However, because most disk arrays do not communicate across vendor barriers, array-based replication requires a dedicated, homogenous infrastructure at both primary and DR sites — a major drawback. In addition to creating expensive vendor lock-in, array-based replication consumes a great deal of network bandwidth.

Furthermore, failover processes between sites can be complex and error-prone. Failback processes are often insufficiently planned and/or go untested. For these reasons, replication is usually limited to tier-one applications and storage, while tier-two and tier-three storage applications remain unprotected and prone to loss or corruption of important data. Lastly, the integrity of array-based snapshot recovery points is usually limited to the last good snapshot, which could be several hours behind. The problems with this approach will only become more magnified as data storage demands increase.

4. Dump the duplicated data.

In its "The Digital Universe Decade" report, IDC said, "nearly 75 percent of our digital world is a copy — in other words, only 25 percent is unique." While some of that duplication is necessary for regulatory and legal reasons, most of it is a flat-out waste that can be eliminated with deduplication-capable backup solutions. Data deduplication addresses the pains related to traditional backup methods and optimizes capacity utilization behind backup applications to extend the retention of data online.

5. Combine local and remote protection.

By approaching backup and DR processes holistically, you gain guarantees on your recovery time objective (RTO) and recovery point objectives (RPO). A consolidation platform of data-protection services gives you the flexibility to apply the right protection method to the right set of data, application, system, or even a data center. Whether it's application-aware snapshots, synchronous replication mirroring, or even data journaling, the mechanism depends on the value of the data and its availability requirement.

The same technologies that are being embraced today as methods to speed data recovery and reduce downtime — namely CDP and deduplication — will be the basis for future strategies to bridge the widening gap between data demands and storage availability. Enterprises that move toward these technologies today will gain tangible advantages and will be far more prepared to capitalize on future opportunities than those enterprises that cling to existing, inadequate solutions that will inevitably become a disadvantage within the next decade.

(For more on zettabytes, see "Goodbye Petabytes and Exabytes, Hello Zettabytes!")

Bobby Crouch is the product marketing manager at FalconStor Software. He is a 20-year technology industry veteran with roles ranging from development engineering to sales and marketing. Bobby's expertise extends from microprocessor architecture, servers, networking, enterprise software, and storage.

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