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Bandwidth constraints obstruct off-site data backup

Gina Narcisi

Having a data backup plan is critical to any businesses' disaster recovery strategy. Many enterprises are adopting or evaluating off-site data backup to ensure they have access to their data in the event of an emergency, but getting that data replicated to off-site storage remains a challenge.

"Thanks to recently publicized natural disasters, enterprises have really taken another look at how they replicate their data and their

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disaster recovery plans," said Dave Bartoletti, senior analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based at Forrester Research Inc., which recently surveyed 50 enterprises on their data replication efforts. "There is a big chuck of corporate data, 34%, that is going unreplicated. Most customers have said that they'd like to address this to meet recovery time objectives, but [54%] have said they [have] limited network bandwidth."

With 39% of businesses sitting on a petabyte of data -- according to Bartoletti's Forrester study that was commissioned by WAN optimization vendor Silver Peak -- enterprises know they need to better protect their data. Seventy-two percent of businesses are looking to off-site replication to meet their recovery point objectives, but the practice requires robust WAN performance -- a limitation that 66% of businesses indicated as a road block to fully utilizing off-site data replication.

Vendors tackle WAN speed, bandwidth optimization hurdles

Enterprises that want to back up a larger percentage of their data will have to find ways around the bandwidth crunch. They can incur more monthly costs by buying more bandwidth, but higher bandwidth isn't always available. They could give data backup more time and a higher priority over the WAN, but this would affect the performance of production applications. Many businesses turn to WAN optimization tools for help.

Coastal Beverage Company, a Wilmington, N.C.-based beverage distributor, has four locations spread throughout rural Eastern North Carolina. While backup was being done locally, replicating to an off-site recovery point 120 miles away was not an option for the company, thanks to bandwidth limitations, said Charlie Pope, IT manager of Coastal Beverage.

"One thing we really wanted to accomplish was replication of our accounting database to our failover site, but it's very challenging to have good connectivity and inexpensive bandwidth between our rural locations," Pope said.

Coastal Beverage's accounting database changes constantly with daily transactions, but the data replication infrastructure couldn't keep pace with the changes. The company installed Silver Peak for bandwidth optimization last year, which has allowed database replication to an off-site location every 15 minutes, Pope said.

"Not only does replication take a lot less time, but it uses less bandwidth," he said. "Silver Peak gives us bandwidth control we didn't have before, so we can allocate a certain percentage just for [replication] purposes."

The Canadian Cancer Society was also grappling with data protection issues across multiple -- and some very rural -- locations seven years ago, attributing to slow WAN speeds as the stumbling block to off-site data backup from its downtown Toronto-based primary data center to the failover site 25 miles away, just outside of the city.

"We have 30 offices, and we were backing up those servers [in each branch] over the WAN, but we were not able to back up some of the more remote offices; there just was not enough bandwidth and time overnight," said Gerry Holmes, IT director of the Canadian Cancer Society, Ontario Division.

Following an internal audit of information security, which pointed out the continuous risk of data loss, the organization decided to address the bandwidth problem between remote locations by running a trial of Riverbed's Steelhead WAN optimization product. The trial also proved to Holmes and his team that the distributed servers could be moved into the primary data center without affecting the user experience.

"After a successful trial of [Steelhead] at one location, we put virtual units in at each location around the province, and brought all the servers out of the branch locations and inside the primary data center," Holmes said.

The Cancer Society is now able to back up the entire primary data center every night to the failover site in five to six hours, a process that would have taken at least double that amount of time prior to the implementation of Riverbed, Holmes said.

Off-site data backup: Making it easier

Off-site data backup and replication has traditionally been an expensive and often difficult process for businesses. But enterprises are putting more work into meeting their recovery point objectives, and vendors can help by making replication software easier, Forrester's Bartoletti said.

More on off-site data backup

Off-site data centers key to disaster recovery

Using a "zero backup" strategy for data replication

Cloud backup: An alternative to tape for some organizations

"The software has to be more automated, and vendors should try to lower its impact on the customer's network," he said. "In the study, businesses noted that the most attractive replication software was easier to configure and optimized use of bandwidth."

Replicating data for disaster recovery often involves multiple teams within an organization -- like the virtualization, storage and networking teams -- which makes the addition of replication software or WAN optimization tools a burden to coordinate and implement.

Vendors like Silver Peak are working to simplify that process for enterprise customers, while avoiding the need for any networking changes, Bartoletti said.

While enterprises have options for storage replication, the focus should be on products that make backup as easy as possible, and for many different users within the organization to use and understand those tools. "The more people that can understand and configure environments, the more use [enterprises] are going to get from software they invest in," Bartoletti said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Gina Narcisi, news writer, and follow @GeeNarcisi on Twitter.


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