Backup Should be Boring. The Age of Recovery is Upon Us

A new theme is emerging in the conversations that I have had over the last few weeks and months with my fellow analysts, end-users, vendors and resellers. No one wants to think about or deal with backup any more. They just want it to work in the background. Rather what gets everyone excited are the new options for recovery that having their data successfully backed up creates.
Ever since I started working in IT nearly 20 years ago, the one aspect of managing IT infrastructures that has largely held me and many others in the IT field back is the inordinate amount of time that we had to devote to setting up and managing data protection.  While protecting data is an important and critical function in every organization, at the end of the day the amount of value it adds to any organization is very hard to quantify.
Sure, when it comes time to do a recovery, everyone is always eternally grateful that a backup copy of the data existed that could be restored. But that does not occur all that often and, even when it does occur, compromises typically had to be made. The data may be hours, days, weeks or even months old. It may take minutes, hours, days, weeks or even months to restore depending how far back one needed to go. Only one person could typically restore the data and he or she had to know how to access and navigate the backup software to restore the data. In other words, backup and restore was a pain.
This is what I hear more often these days. No one really wants to manage backups. They want to recover. By way of example, here is a quote I got from an IT admin just this past Monday:

No IT manager wants to worry about backups. In my opinion backup should not be a day to day task. It should be automated. For these reasons, the Dell DL4000 was the answer to me.  We can now take snapshots every 15 minutes, restore quickly, spin up virtual machines for test environments and use VM standbys for old, falling servers.”

In a slide desk I received from Unitrends last week on its family of backup appliances, it referred to its backup appliance as a, get this, “Recovery Appliance.” A recovery appliance!
Recovery ApplianceNow whether or not you agree with Unitrends’ assessment that its appliance is a backup appliance or a recovery appliance is beside the point. The point is that providers like Dell and Unitrends have finally caught on to what IT admins and, more importantly, the people they report to really care about. They care about recovery and don’t really give a damn about backup.
Don’t misinterpret me. Organizations do care at some level about how many TBs they backup on a nightly basis, that backups complete successfully and on time, how much backup data they store on disk, tape and in the cloud and even what their deduplication ratios are. But at the end of the day, if they cannot recover, what good is backup? All of these aforementioned items are just the ingredients that one needs to cook up a recovery and recoveries are cooking right now.
One of my favorite parts when I have calls with end-users is the change in the tone and inflection in their voice when they switch from talking about backups in their environment to elaborating on how they can now perform recoveries in ways that they only dreamed about before. They get excited when they talk about:

  • Doing instant restores locally, remotely or in the cloud
  • Giving end-users the ability to restore their own files so they (the IT admins) do not have to get up to do 2 am restores
  • Failing over entire applications into the cloud or another site and back again without end-users even noticing

This is not science fiction nor does it necessarily require multi-million dollar investments. These solutions are shipping and available right now for even small and midsized shops. While these solutions are not (yet) available for $10 or $20, they do have starting price points in the $20K – $50K price range and these price points may be even lower if one uses a provider who makes them available on a monthly or annual service contract.
Backup has been far too exciting for the past 20 years for all of the wrong reasons. IT admins have been consumed with performing tasks such as fixing tape drives, troubleshooting network issues and trying to figure out which backup media has the backup data they need or which backup software protected which server – all of this often needing to be done in pressure-packed and time-sensitive situations. Organizations need to put these issues to bed to make backup as boring, mundane and reliable as turning on the water faucet. You expect water to come out when you turn on the faucet and one should expect backups to complete when you turn on backup.
While I am not so naïve to believe that all backup issues will magically go away with any one solution and may never entirely go away, the Age of Recovery is upon us with new options for recovery springing up every day. If you are still one of those individuals struggling with backup on a daily basis, you are living in the past and using a solution that needs to be either updated or discarded. A new generation of end-users is emerging that expects backup to automatically work and who have already made the important mental switch to focusing on recovery and the possibilities it creates.

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