Storage Consolidation: Where Does Backup Fit Into the Picture?

Finally! After years of maintaining disparate storage systems, your organization is standardizing on a common infrastructure. Here are critical factors to consider—including the vital aspect of backup storage.

DID YOU KNOW? To account for backup processes, you should add 50% to 200% to your total storage capacity for storage area network (SAN) or network-attached storage (NAS) environments.

FAST FACT: While 27% of business technology professionals say they have completed a storage consolidation project, 45% are actually in the midst of planning or executing one, according to InformationWeek’s 2013 State of Storage report.

In a recent IT status meeting, your database administrators groused that they’ve had it up to here with information overload. Those DBA types can be a prickly bunch, but they have a point: The relentless surge of information into and through your organization has rendered traditional direct-attached storage unmanageable. To get a grip on the data, your IT team is undertaking a strategic storage consolidation project.

Well, congratulations are in order. Welcome to the 21st century.

Storage consolidation can boost efficiency by reducing complexity and offering scalable capacity. You can save money, too. It sounds great on paper, but such fundamental changes affect many elements of your IT infrastructure, including data backup systems and processes.

For starters, a single, consolidated storage system serving the entire enterprise demands a rock-solid backup plan—since your virtual eggs are all in one basket. That’s why it’s crucial to iron out all the wrinkles, lest your storage consolidation project irons you out. As you move toward a next-generation storage environment, you will almost certainly want to retain tape backup as an essential part of a well-rounded data-protection strategy.

Storage Networks: The Basics

The two primary storage consolidation architectures are network-attached storage (NAS) and storage area network (SAN). Both offer a common pool of storage resources that can be shared across multiple applications. Traditionally, disk storage options were separated into SAN and NAS solutions, but today you can find systems that use both for greater flexibility. Here are some tradeoffs between SAN and NAS options:

  • With NAS, you store data in a file system; this improves compatibility, since virtually all operating systems support NAS protocols. However, specific applications may not offer the same level of support.
  • In a SAN, the system transfers blocks of data using a highly efficient and speed oriented protocol. Though this boosts performance, it’s typically a pricier, more complex proposition.

Whichever option you select for storage consolidation, consider these tips in developing a backup and recovery plan:

1. Keep tape in the mix. Even with your company’s data centralized in NAS or SAN arrays, you should not hurl your tape media into the dumpster. A storage networking architecture reinforces tape’s strengths as a low-cost, portable medium.

Backup-to-disk is fast, offering lightning-quick recovery times. But a spinning disk is more expensive to run than tape and is more susceptible to unexpected failure. Nor can you wheel your mammoth disk arrays to an offsite storage facility. So comprehensive disaster recovery should include offsite tape vaulting. In fact, the federal, state and industry regulations applying to your business may require secure, offsite storage of data archives—and that is tape’s forte.

2. Rightsize your disk storage. Backing up your SAN and NAS storage volumes to disk adds a minimum of 100 percent overhead—double the amount you need for the primary data—and that addition will likely rise to 200 percent once you factor in full and daily incremental backups, according to Storage Switzerland LLC analyst George Crump. Even with data deduplication and compression technologies in place, assume that your backups will call for at least an additional 50 percent of storage space.

3. Consider disk-based backup. If you’re adopting a consolidated storage architecture, consider a disk-based backup solution with deduplication. With this approach, your backup software writes to the disk system, and deduplication technology reduces the amount of disk space required. You can then back up the data stored on the deduplication appliance to tape to prepare it for offsite archiving.

4. Recognize NAS backup’s limitations. While NAS appliances function like file servers, they typically run proprietary, I/O-optimized operating systems, which won’t support backup software agents intended for servers with direct-attached storage. Instead, you need to rely on a technology called Network Data Management Protocol (NDMP), which provides for centralized backup and recovery of NAS devices but also introduces other tradeoffs.

Consolidating storage with a SAN or NAS can yield big benefits by optimizing the infrastructure and eliminating hardware sprawl. But these aren’t simple implementations. You’ll have to redesign your backup for a more virtualized world while retaining tape as the ultimate buck-stops-here medium, particularly for offsite archival and disaster recovery. An experienced, trusted partner can provide invaluable guidance as you make your move to the future.

Iron Mountain Suggests: Get the Experts on Your Team

Like any big IT project, enterprise-wide storage consolidation may seem daunting. But like Rome, it takes time to build—and when it came to aqueducts, the Romans were wise enough to call in the infrastructure experts.

To ensure that you’re employing the best strategy and following best practices, enlist the aid of consulting professionals. They’ve seen every kind of backup environment imaginable and can provide guidance for your specific industry and business needs. Iron Mountain’s range of consulting services for backup and recovery can help your organization:

  • Design, build and execute sound data management policies and programs to meet regulatory compliance obligations, mitigating the risks and costs of litigation.
  • Align data backup processes with your unique business and industry requirements through field-proven data assessment, classification and data retention management services.
  • Implement faster, more reliable recovery for your IT environment while minimizing capital and resource costs.

Do you have questions about data backup and recovery? Read additional Knowledge Center stories on this subject, or contact Iron Mountain’s Data Backup and Recovery team. You’ll be connected with a knowledgeable product and services specialist who can address your specific challenges.

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