What if there were no backup?

Data Center by Mathieu Ramage (Flickr)
Data Center by Mathieu Ramage (Flickr)
If backup didn’t exist and you had to start over to protect your data how would you do it today?

I think four things are important to protect data in today’s data center:

  • Any data ever created in the data center or on-the-road needs to be protected,
  • Data restores must be under end-user control,
  • Data needs to be copied/replicated/mirrored offsite to support disaster recovery,
  • Multiple data copies should exist only to satisfy some data protection policy – one copy is mandatory, two copies (not co-located) would be required to support higher availability, and
  • Data protection activities should not interfere with or interrupt ongoing data center operations

All this can and is being done with backup and other systems today but most of these products and features grew out of earlier phases of computing. With today’s technology many of these capabilities may no longer be necessary today if one could just rethink data protection from the ground up.

Data Versioning

I think some form of data/file/block easily versioning could easily support the requirement of restoring any data ever created. Versioning systems have existed in the past and could certainly be re-constituted today with some sort of standards. The cost of storing all that data might be a concern but storage costs continue to decrease and if multiple copies retained for data protection can be eliminated, it might just be a wash. Versioning could just as easily be provided for the labtop and once new versions of data are created old versions could be moved off the laptop to the data center for safekeeping and to free up space.

End-user visiblility

End-user restoration requires some facility to explore the end-users data protection file-name and block space. Once this is available, identifying which version needs to be restored and where to restore it should be straightforward. All backup applications provide a backup directory and a few even allow end-user access to perform data restores. While all this works well with files, having an end-user do this for block storage would require more sophistication. Nonetheless, both file and block restores seems entirely feasible once data versioning is in place.

Ubiquitous replication

The requirement to have data copies offsite is certainly feasible today. Replication can be done in hardware or software today, synchronously, semi-synchronously, and/or asynchronously. Replication today can solve this problem but replicating to separate data centers cost too much. Enter the storage cloud. With the storage cloud we could pay just for the data bandwidth and storage to support our data protection needs and no more. Old data versions could be replicated as new versions are created. Protecting data written to a new version is more problematic but some sort of write splitter (ala CDP) could be used to create a replica of this data as well.

Policy driven

Having a policy driven data protection system that only stores a minimal number of copies of data seems to be difficult to support. Yet, this seems to be what incremental-only backup software and archive products support today. For other backup software, if one uses a deduplicating VTL this can be very similar. Adding some policy sophistication to coordinate multiple data protection copies across multiple (potentially Cloud) nodes and deduplicating all the un-necessary copies seems entirely feasible.

Operationally transparent

Not interrupting ongoing operations also seems to be tough to crack. Yet, many storage vendors provide snapshot technologies that copy block and/or file data without interrupting operations. However, coordinating vendor snapshot technologies from some central data protection manager is an essential integration but continues to be lacking.

Can pieceparts solve the problem?

Yes, most of these features are purchasable as separate product offerings (except data versioning) but what’s missing is any one product that pulls all of this together and offers one integrated solution to data protection as I have described it.

The problem, of course, is that such functionality probably best belongs as part of the O/S or a hypervisor but they long ago relinquished any responsibility for data protection. Aside from the anti-trust and non-competitive nature of such a future data protection O/S offering, I only see isolated steps and no coordinated attack on today’s overall data protection problem.

Backup software vendors do a great job with what they have under their control, but they can’t do it all, ditto for VTL providers, CDP vendors, replication products, etc. Piecemeal solutions can only take us so far down this path but it’s all we have today and I fear for the forseeable future.

Dream time over for now, gotta backup some data…