Guide to Data Backup and Replication

The new backup tools you can't live without

By Beth Schultz

Monitoring backups always has been one of those unglamorous IT chores. Over the last several years, however, numerous vendors have taken backups from boring to remarkable as they roll out heterogeneous backup-management tools that perform so many new functions.

Spun off from the broader storage-resource management market, these tools monitor and report on backups across multiple vendors' backup products. In doing so, they can ease the auditing process. They create a way to implement chargeback programs for backups. They let network executives offer and verify service-level agreements for backups, and more.

Heterogeneous backup-management tools are available from various niche vendors including Aptare, Bocada, CommVault and WysDM Software, as well as such infrastructure vendors as EMC and Symantec. An enterprise might be running EMC's Legato Networker, IBM's Tivoli Storage Manager and Symantec's Veritas Backup Exec, but with backup-management software, an IT administrator can get an at-a-glance, big-picture look at what's happened with all those operations from a single console, in real time and historically.

Some vendors take a traditional client/server approach to backup management. An example is EMC's Backup Advisor, in which agents sit on production servers and backup hosts feed system information into the backup-management server residing on the network. More typical is the agentless approach, favored by Bocada, WysDM and others, in which backup-management software gathers statistics through scheduled polling.

These tools are getting ever more sophisticated. In February, start-up Illuminator released Virtual Recovery Engine (VRE), which coordinates reporting of backup applications and other data-protection technologies. In addition, the software associates that information with the application data, so IT executives get an easy view of the backups connected to every data set, says Yishay Yovel, a vice president with the vendor (see screenshot). The initial release provides interfaces to storage arrays and point-in-time copying, replication and backup applications from EMC and Network Appliance.

Given the rise of the dynamic, open New Data Center, products that provide a centralized, heterogeneous view of the data-protection infrastructure are a huge boon. Suddenly, monitoring SLAs gets a lot easier.

WysDM for Backups software, for example, uses a predictive-analysis engine to spot potential SLA problems. The engine learns the normal behavior patterns of the data-protection infrastructure, then flags discrepancies, says Jim McDonald, CTO and co-founder of WysDM Software, one of the pioneers in heterogeneous backup management.

For example, if the engine notices the backup of financial data is taking five minutes longer each night, WysDM for Backups could notify IT that if it doesn't address the situation, it will fall out of SLA compliance in X amount of time. Another example: The engine might notice the absence of a nightly 3GB-file-system backup. Because that doesn't fit normal behavior -- and could put IT out of SLA compliance -- the software would issue an alert, he says. "This is the difference between just having technical output of backup information and providing business protection."

Steve Frewin, storage administrator for TD Banknorth, a banking and financial-services company in Portland, Maine, and wholly owned subsidiary of Toronto-based TD Bank Financial Group, says he is using backup-management functions within Symantec's broader Command Central Service software for a daily health check. That differs from what he had to do in the old days when a server didn't complete its backup within SLA windows: gather the backup's parameters manually.

Having the historical perspective also helps him provide better advice when IT administrators ask how additional data volume would affect the backups. "I can now say, well, we're just barely meeting that SLA now, if you add [100 gigabytes], that's going to be a problem," he says. "Before, all I could say was, 'Well, I think we're out of room' -- that doesn't go far with management."

With these tools, auditing and compliance become painless, some users say. That seems to be the case at Catholic Healthcare Partners (CHP), which uses Bocada's Bocada Enterprise to manage its backup operations and ease audits. "We use Bocada to print reports and say, 'Here you go -- it's done.' We can customize reports to auditors' needs, and that's so much easier than writing long SQL statements to gather the information," says Brian Witsken, the lead storage-management systems engineer for the 30-hospital, nonprofit healthcare system in Cincinnati.

Bocada, one of the first vendors to offer a heterogeneous backup reporting tool, has more than 400 enterprises using its software. According to Nancy Hurley, a vice president with the company, 75% of those users say Bocada reports are essential in helping them pass audits.

Illuminator also pitches itself as an antidote for auditing headaches. With VRE, users can recover application data on request and show exactly what assets are in place and how the data is protected. It also shows the processes in place to fix any problems that occur in the data-protection environment. And if a company can show how well organized it is about its compliance processes, "who knows, then maybe next time the auditor won't even ask [about the processes] and instead just agree to look at the reports," Illuminata's Yovel says.

Illuminator's Virtual Recovery Engine provides an at-a-glance look at enterprise backup and recovery processes. In this case, it shows data-protection processes for a critical Oracle database used in a trading application.

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