Technology for a backup admin in 2012 is not only complex, but it is blurry at the same time. Trying to follow three technologies while wearing one hat can be demoralizing. Hopefully reading this will shed a little light on the ever growing conundrum of doing more with less, for less, and faster.
Knowing Your Network
Many smaller companies are beginning to understand the benefits of upgrading their intranet infrastructure. For years, companies maintained a 1GB Ethernet standard throughout their entire operation. Other network factors they considered would be the price to upgrade switching equipment and cabling and the adoption of higher speed throughputs that actually produce a return on investment. Now that prices on hardware have stabilized, to some degree, and companies have budgeted for hardware refreshes during an economic low, we are starting to see customers running fiber storage networks and 10GB switches, and recycling those old 1GB, category 5 switches that were the defacto for so long.
Today, many backup admins are seeing user, storage, and backup data traveling across a 1GB connection over much larger mediums. Understanding that data flow from an end user can get quite hairy; especially when you are dealing with different speeds, VLANs, and interfaces.
Physical vs. Virtual
Many companies are in a conversion period where they are replacing aging, outdated, dead hardware with simplified virtual machines sitting on a number of hypervisors from various vendors. If your company is completely virtual, (Good for you!), your backup will be a lot easier than you think; if you have a mixed environment you have to put in slightly more work and money. If you are completely physical still, I am sorry for your inconvenience, but there are no breaks or shortcuts currently available.
Agent or No Agent?
Many software products utilize a server-agent architecture for their backup success which works fine; it is just not as efficient in a virtual environment as it is in a physical. In a physical environment, you have data coming from multiple servers to one backup server; there is no way around it. In a virtual environment, you can avoid multiple streams coming from one hypervisor (which may host many virtual servers); the foundation of this is what you are backing up and knowing how successful you will be with an agentless approach. If your environment has no databases or live applications, like Exchange, you can simply backup many servers with one agent through the hypervisor. Not only will this save bandwidth, but it will significantly save money on licensing. Buyers beware: if you have databases and live applications, you should stick to an agent inside the virtual server to help with the log truncation and recovery of a logically mutating machine.
In conclusion, deciding which backup solution to go with stretches beyond choosing the cheapest option. Knowing you’re protected from backup to recovery is vital. Having the ability to convert physical-to-virtual or virtual-to-physical without worrying about hardware does not come at the cheapest price. Do not fall for a sales pitch of backup equals archive, or that a snapshot will solve all your problems. Know which product with satisfy all your requirements. Do not walk into a Cadillac dealership with the money to purchase a Honda, and then complain you did not get heated seats. If you do not fully understand your environment, start there and make sure you have answers to all the questions you may encounter while scoping out the correct software/hardware solution. Buy what best fits your environment, not what best fits your wallet. You will find that solution to be the cheapest for you in the end.
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