System downtime and data loss pose intolerable risks to every business. From IT departments to board rooms, managers recognize the importance of business uptime and data protection to continued success, productivity and profitability. Accordingly, it is important to have effective strategies and technologies that protect data and provide fast recovery should data be lost or corrupted due to accidental or malicious action. 
Planning for recovery - designing and implementing technology to reduce the amount of recovery time needed after an interruption - is a pressing requirement for businesses of all sizes. When implementing an operational plan that ensures quick data and applications recovery, IT managers need to ask themselves the following questions: 

  • Are my applications and data recoverable without impacting business operations? 
  • Do the data protection strategies currently available meet my recovery point and recovery time objectives? 
  • Can I afford to implement a comprehensive plan that covers both local and remote disaster recovery requirements? 
  • Are there cost-effective alternatives that meet my requirements? 

Businesses face a variety of risks to their data, such as accidentally deleted files, data corruption from viruses or hacker attacks, software or hardware failures, power outages and a wide range of natural disasters. Business and IT managers need a data protection and recovery strategy that keeps their organizations running. For IT departments, this is a high priority. 

Tape Backups: First Line of Defense 

For most businesses, some form of data protection already exists - most likely tape-based backups. Periodically, someone shuts applications down to perform a backup to tape, which may take several hours depending on the volume of data being copied. It also requires manual intervention to set up the backup job, run it, confirm that it occurred, and then return the application to operation. 
Tape is used for backup and archive because it is very inexpensive, but it is an old technology that has been available almost since the dawn of computing. There are several problems with tape-based backup: 

  • It is a time-intensive process that is potentially disruptive to the applications; this issue is commonly referred to as the backup window problem. 
  • Because of their impact on applications and resources, tape-based backups are usually not performed more than once a day, and often only once every several days. As a result, there are very few tape-based recovery points available for use over the course of a week. 
  • Because data changes very frequently (sometimes within seconds or minutes), having fewer recovery points means risking the loss of large amounts of current data for a given recovery. 
  • Once it is clear a recovery needs to occur, it takes time to perform recovery tasks: locating the correct tape, transporting it (if off-site), restoring it to disk and restarting the application with the recovered data. 
  • As a storage medium for backup, tape is not entirely reliable. In fact, leading analyst groups such as the Gartner Group, Enterprise Strategy Group and Taneja Group state that as many as one in four backup tapes suffers from some sort of problem that precludes performing a recovery.

 If an organization is driven by either business or regulatory requirements to deploy a disaster recovery solution, a tape-only strategy can pose undue risks. For instance, several highly publicized tape losses during physical transport (by truck) to off-site facilities have impacted large companies like Bank of America, Citigroup Inc., ChoicePoint Inc. and LexisNexis in the U.S. and have resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of company records.  Replication of data across secure IP-based networks is a much faster, easier and safer way to transport data to off-site locations for archival storage purposes.  

Understanding RTO and RPO

Tape-only backups are no longer an effective data protection strategy in business environments that require frequent access and updates to critical business data. The two most important metrics for determining the optimal capabilities of any data protection strategy are the recovery point objective (RPO) and recovery time objective (RTO). 
RTO defines how quickly data and applications need to be restored and be fully functional again. The faster the RTO requirement, the closer a company moves to zero interruption in uptime and the highest level of data protection. 
RPO defines the point at which the business absolutely cannot afford to lose data. It points to a place in each data stream where information must be available to put the data back in operation. Again, the closer a business comes to zero data loss and real-time access, the more continuous protection of data will be required.

Matching Business Needs to Data Protection and Recovery Solutions 

What is the best method to meet the data recovery requirements of each system in an organization and achieve the optimum and appropriate RTO and RPO? Different RTOs and RPOs may exist for different organizations and various types of business critical information. For example, a supply chain application that feeds a production plant may require a recovery time of only a few minutes with very minimal data loss. A payroll system updated weekly with only a few records might only require a recovery time of 12 hours and a recovery point of 24 hours or more before the impact will affect the business. Any data protection strategy has to ensure that information remains as accessible and available as needed to continue to drive revenue, profitability and productivity at acceptable levels, no matter what planned or unplanned events occur. The data protection solution should: 

  • Protect data to a level that meets business requirements and RTOs and RPOs. 
  • Manage business uptime as automatically as possible to streamline operations and save time. 
  • Assure the integrity and quality of data during interruptions and when the system returns to full operations.   

Continuous Data Protection: An Alternative to Tape Backups

  The good news for businesses is that new technologies for data protection are more efficient and effective than ever. Innovations have kept pace with the need to provide comprehensive data protection and make data recovery a quick and easy process. Perhaps the most exciting recent innovation in this area is continuous data protection (CDP). 
CDP is a flexible disk-based technology that enables businesses to quickly and easily recover data to any point in time. For example, it is not uncommon for a user to accidentally delete a critical file or for a virus to corrupt business data. These actions render the data unusable, even though the server or other hardware resources continue to work as expected. CDP enables businesses to recover a version of the data to a point in time just prior to the accidental deletion or virus corruption. This earlier version of the data can then be restored to the production environment. 
Unlike tape backups, CDP technology does not require the interruption of applications to perform backups. It works continuously to back up critical data to an alternate server so it can immediately be recovered from any point in time. If an important document is deleted or data is corrupted, CDP dials back to the point in time just before the problem occurred. Recovery occurs immediately with just the push of a button. Even for large amounts of data, recovery takes only minutes. With CDP, data protection and data recovery occur with only a fraction of the time and labor resources required by a tape-only strategy. It also eliminates the threat of major data loss posed by the infrequent recovery points of a tape-only strategy. 
CDP incorporates several techniques from traditional backup, replication and snapshot solutions, and how it achieves its goals has much to do with its architecture and configuration. It is important to note the difference between “true CDP” and “near CDP” when evaluating a data protection strategy. 
True CDP captures every data write and transfers it to a secondary disk. It enables a data “undo” by allowing recovery to any point in time. This is especially beneficial when data is corrupted, as by a virus. With true CDP, it is easy to identify a tainted email, for example, and then roll back to a point just prior to the time the email was received. 
Near CDP differs from true CDP in that data can be recovered only to specific points in time. For example, near CDP will copy data when a file is saved or closed so the recovery point is only to the last known saved file. In some cases, this could be several hours or more. In high transaction environments or environments with rigid compliance or government regulations, this may not be sufficient. 
For businesses looking to take the next step in their data protection strategies, CDP is an essential consideration. The efficiency and flexibility of CDP translate into superior data protection and recovery, as well as cost savings realized through the elimination of both planned downtime for backups and lengthy, error-prone tape recovery processes. Most IT analysts agree that businesses will incorporate this strategy in the next few years as part of an integrated solution. CDP enables organizations to reverse data corruption quickly and efficiently, eliminate downtime for backups and recover data instantly at the push of a button. Whether as a standalone technology or integrated into a high availability system, CDP provides easy and effective protection against the loss of critical business data.

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