Thursday, 11 August 2016

The Top 4 Ways to Handle Difficult Backup Environments

It may come as a surprise to you, but the administrators of backup, networks, and systems are essentially the backbone of the IT world.  Did you know that these heroes are responsible for some very difficult tasks?  These tasks include -but are not limited to- keeping critical business data secure and up-to-date, getting more out of existing hardware, and keeping auditors happy.  Overall, they are the ones who keep the whole sphere in line. 

In recent days, however, the jobs of these individuals has changed quite a bit.  Virtual tape libraries (VLTs), virtual machines (VMs), and additional technologies with respect to backup have made the job of a Backup Administrator much more complicated.  Also, there is more to be managed when corporate acquisitions occur.  With the addition of the fact that all departments want special reports that communicate factors most relevant to them, and that finance departments want each sphere to pay for their own storage, it seems that administrators have a lot on their plates!  The truth is, the plates of most Backup Administrators are full, and we haven’t even touched on compliance reports yet! 

On the upside, most Backup Administrators are well-equipped to handle the large load of work now required of them.  However, they are still human, and that makes them limited in terms of how much time they can spend in a particular area.  For instance, because of the list of tasks mentioned above, everything takes longer.  What this means is that less time can be spent on management of the entire backup sphere.  This should not surprise anyone, as even administrators can only do so much!  The good news is that there is light at the end of the tunnel.  If you are in a situation where you have too many proverbial pots on the stove with respect to your backup environment, don’t worry!  Here are 4 essential tips that will help you to wrangle in those testy backup spheres. 

1.     Create a client backup status every day.
You must remember the importance of making the backup status of your clients clear on a daily basis.  In order to do this, figure out the job information to use as your base.  You can depend upon your applications to supply indicators that make this easier. Next, you must consider your backup window.  Typically, you will see something like 7pm to 7am, meaning that the status of your daily backup doesn’t follow the calendar day.  Bear in mind the reality of missed jobs and that everything might be communicated as “ok” because of no job to report.  However, the truth is, this missed job ought to be marked as “missed.”  This can be done by checking on scheduler rules.  In the event of an external scheduler, this data needs to be associated with the client data in the backup product.  In the end, you must decide on how you want to handle the load of many jobs.  It is important to ask yourself how you would view failed jobs in the midst of several daily running jobs.  In other words, would you consider something like this a success, a failure, or a partial?   These factors need to be determined before you implement a daily backup status.  After going through these steps, you simply need to start programming, obtaining and aggregating data, and saving the results in order to produce accurate reports.

2.     Report on individual business units.
Most people that are reading this article are looking after a large amount of PCs, servers, and databases.  Many of these devices are simply names on a screen, and the challenge of valuing the data on each machine is very real.  In order to make these names more significant to you as the administrator, it is a good practice to pair the backup clients with the company configuration management database.  This way, you will be able to collect information such as business units or the application names in a much more memorable fashion.  You will also be able to begin reporting at the application or business unit level and thereby share the information with end users.  Bear in mind that there are many CMDB tools in existence, and the difficulty involved in extracting specific data programmatically can be significant.  In order to get this information, some people obtain an extra copy of the CMDB in a CSV file, and that way, the information is organized by columns that show the hostname, business unit name, and the application name.  With the availability of this information, administrators can then map it to the storage or backup status for each individual client.  As mentioned above, it can also be shared with end users, which is a huge benefit to all. 

3.     Report on your storage.
It is common desire for both managers and users alike to obtain knowledge about their storage usage.  Likewise, teams want this information in order to accurately forecast future storage needs and additional storage purchases.  Keeping a record of daily data points for all key elements is a good rule of thumb when reporting on your storage information.  In order to achieve this, you must look at the raw data, compress it, and then de-dupe it, if necessary.  Keep the level of granularity low, beginning with storage, and then moving on to storage pools, file systems, or shares, if applicable. Do remember that this data is only relevant for a few months after reporting.  You might also want to keep track of the deduplication ratio over time when considering the VTLs or other devices relating to deduplication.  The reason for this is because degradation will likely result in extra storage costs per TB of raw data, not to mention the additional processing cycles on the deduplication device.

4.     Don’t wait!  Be sure to automate!

You might be concerned that there will be loads of work you must do manually after reading this article.  Do not fear!  There are various solutions in the software world that will assist you in making many of the processes mentioned above automated.  The best part of this is that your system will be equipped to perform in a proactive manner, instead in one that is reactive.  By investing in appropriate software, you can be assured that your backup reporting strategy will be top-notch!

Amedee Potier joined Rocket Software in 2003 and is currently Senior Director of R&D, where he oversees several Rocket products in the Data Protection space. His focus is on solutions for data protection and management in heterogeneous multi-vendor and multi-platform environments.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

With a Modern Storage Infrastructure, Companies Must Find an Excellent Data Management Tool

One of the more “weighty” questions within the IT world is in reference to the value of each company’s particular data.  Many wonder what the true value of protected data is in the long-run, eventually view it as a cost center where money continuously gets used up.  In order to make data work in the favor of a business and to help generate some income, companies must get smarter with their approaches to business and stop looking at their data this way!

The majority of companies out there admit to wanting a Big Data system as a part of their layout, but ultimately have nothing to show for these desires.  There have been many failed implementations despite lots of money spent on resources to help.  You might say that many businesses have the best intentions when comes to incorporating a data management plan, yet intention without action is arguably useless at the end of the day.  You might wonder why companies fail to follow through on their desires for a Big Data system.  Well, the answer is really quite simple.  The amount of data out there is staggering, and trying to manage it all would be like trying to boil the vast ocean.  You can imagine how difficult-if not impossible-that would be! 

Many question if the cloud would be a good solution, and if everyone should just get started on moving their data up there.  Or perhaps virtualization?  Would that be the answer?  These two tools are valuable, but the question stands on whether or not they are the best way to utilize company resources.  What companies really need is a tool that will aid in organizing data into appropriate categories.  In other words, this tool would be able to filter out what data should be implemented in order to create the most value for the company.

As stated above, the majority of corporations view their data as simply a cost center, aiding in the draining of company resources.  As human nature would have it, a lot of times the attitudes in reference to existing data reflects the heart of "out with the old, in with the new," and new projects that allow for more capacity or faster processing take precedence in time and funding.  It is as if the old data is a bothersome reality, always needing a little extra attention and focus, demanding greater capacity, and continuously needing backups and protection.  What companies forget to keep at the forefront of their minds however, is the fact that taking care of this old and “bothersome” data is a great way to clear up space on the primary storage, and who doesn’t appreciate that?  It also aids in generating a faster backup process (with a reduced backup size), which is again, a bonus for any company!  It should not be so quickly forgotten that this nagging and consistently needy data is essentially the ESSENCE of the company.  Would you believe that this “cost center” is also where it gains some of its income?  If companies kept these points in their minds, we would not be seeing such poor practices when it comes to data management.  One thing is clear however, and that is the point that initiative with managing data can be difficult, and many view the overwhelming ocean of growing data and the daunting task of trying to manage it as too great a calling to handle.
However, IT departments and administrators must bear in mind that there are tools out there to help them classify and organize data, which ultimately will be their proverbial life-boat when it comes time to accepting the challenge of managing data.  Look at it this way.  Let's say you are trying to find every single chemical engineer on earth.  Does that sound a bit overwhelming?  The question is, how would you go about doing this?  After all, there are over 7 billion people on this planet!  Where do you begin?  Do you profile EVERY person?  Of course not.  What you would likely do, in order to simplify this complex process, is organizing people into broad groups, maybe by profession.  After that, you would probably do something like research what particular people in that profession graduated with a degree in engineering.  Though basic, you can use these same principles when narrowing down data and trying to sort through the piles of information in a company.  One must use their intelligence and business knowledge to better grasp corporate data, and in return, this will help companies benefit from their data assets.  In order to do this, there are tools available to help administrators better comprehend and manage their data. 

These tools exist to give IT departments the upper hand in managing their spheres.  Can you imagine trying to manage large amounts of company data on your own?  Luckily, we don’t have to do such things, and we live in an age in which a variety of solutions are available to help companies not only survive, but thrive.  These tools are out there to empower IT teams to successfully weather the storms and changing tides of data types and volumes.  After using such tools, companies often experience improved storage capacity, less costs associated with backup and data protection -- and let’s not forget compliance!  Compliance is a hot topic, and with the help of appropriate data management solutions, companies will be guaranteed to meet the various regulatory compliance rules in today’s business world.

In closing, it is important to note that more networking tools will not do anything close to what the appropriate data management solutions can do.  Companies should be looking for solutions that can help them as well with tracking, classifying, and organizing file systems over their whole lifespan.  When the right tools get into the right hands, IT managers are better able to do their jobs! 

About the author: Jason Zhang is the product marketing person for Rocket Software's Backup, Storage, and Cloud solutions.