Embrace the Chaos and Reap the Rewards

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How do you back up your data? A decade ago, the question was an afterthought for IT directors, and they could answer it in 10 words or less. Today, the question is top of mind for CIOs and nobody in the organization has a complete answer. To deliver the answers that the business needs, the backup team must transform its approach and adopt a service-provider mindset.

Backup has become a top IT priority because it can drive the business. Companies recognize the competitive business advantages of bringing together the right information and the right people. Therefore, they want their IT investments to advance their information infrastructure, instead of merely maintaining the legacy environment. Unfortunately, IT organizations evolve slowly to minimize risk (e.g. data loss). Enterprises with high-performance trusted backup solutions evolve more quickly because the rest of IT can move more rapidly, confident in their backup safety net. Backup has become a CIO focus because it can accelerate IT and business transformation.

As backup has become more vital, it has also become more fragmented. Concerned about the performance and reliability of legacy backup solutions, individual IT groups have deployed point products to address their localized backup challenges. For example, most enterprises have DBAs, Virtual Machine (VM) administrators and storage teams run one-off approaches for some VMs, databases, NAS servers or remote offices. The result is chaos: snapshots, database dumps to local disk, replicas, Virtual Tape Library (VTL), cloud, legacy tape and multiple management applications. While countless IT directors swear that they’re the exception (“We’re a [insert term associated with hierarchical control] company. Everything is controlled by our central backup application.”), the stark reality is that absolute, centralized control is an illusion.

Why do these groups diverge from the central backup offering? First, the backup team does not meet their needs. Second, unlike a decade ago, each group can create its own solution. The root of the problem is that the three core backup technical trends drive the divergence.

  • Performance. Backup and recovery performance drives customer satisfaction. With more VMs, consolidated applications, billion-file NAS servers, and remote offices around the globe, backup teams struggle to maintain service levels. Since businesses are pushing IT to improve services, backup remains a critical bottleneck. In response, hypervisors, applications and storage systems have built tools to help optimize backup (e.g., VMware’s Changed Block Tracking, which can enable 10x better backup and recovery performance). Of course, if the company’s legacy backup application does not support the optimizations, the other teams will find point products that do.
  • Visibility. VM, application, and storage administrators understand that data drives the business. They worry about not knowing the status of their backups. They complain that much of the time-critical restore workflow is out of their control. They want more visibility into their data protection and more control over restores. If the company’s backup team does not enable broader visibility, the other teams will deploy point products that they control.
  • Disk Backup. When tape was the only viable backup media, centralization was required. Most application administrators didn’t want to purchase, manage, or attach tape devices to their servers. Disk, on the other hand, enables groups to create their own backup solution.

The need for backup performance and visibility drives other IT groups to explore alternatives to their centralized backup team. Disk enables them to deploy those alternatives.

To meet business needs and remain relevant, the backup team must adopt a service provider approach. Enterprises cannot allow backup to devolve into fragmented silos, but they cannot force their users to embrace substandard services. Therefore, backup teams must abandon the legacy backup model that alienates their customers. While many CIOs want to buy a “silver bullet” product or service that “solves” their problems, the first step is internal with their asking customers what services they want.

  • First, they’ll learn that the teams want a central backup group for compliance, reporting, infrastructure management, etc. They just want fast backups that they can rapidly restore themselves.
  • Second, they’ll find that their users want a variety of services across different applications – from traditional backup to backup storage services to centralized backup policy and catalog management.

Once they begin to understand their customers, the backup team can adopt technologies that will help them evolve their environment. The first buying decision is disk backup. Immediately, disk can enhance the backup team’s service levels and organizational credibility. Strategically, since disk backup is one of three core trends, the backup group needs a reliable, flexible solution that will support the evolution to new workloads and workflows.

Transforming the backup environment, the backup team, and its customer relationships takes time. Each day we see customers at all stages of evolution. An increasing number of backup teams, however, have already become service providers that help accelerate the business. For each of them, their transformation began with the service provider mindset.

Sometimes, the best way to gain control is to let go… and embrace the chaos.

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