With faxes, email, Web pages, interactive online forms, newsgroups, voice mail, and databases, the digital office is here and thriving. Increasingly, groupware applications are eliminating paper documents and filing cabinets. Physical documents you can hold in your hand, scribble on, and fold into paper airplanes are nearing eligibility for the endangered species list.
Think about it: When is the last time you saw a full, physical printout of the corporate accounting ledger or database? Chances are hardcopies don't exist, which can be a dangerous proposition for business. Imagine a natural disaster that destroys your equipment, a hardware failure, or an employee who hits the wrong key at the wrong time, and you'll realize backup software is not a luxury for business in the '90sit is a necessity.
In Europe, some banks are proposing backup security for intellectual property as a prerequisite for businesses applying for loans. According to a high-level source involved with storage and backup technologies, banks are losing money when a business loses its database. That sort of blow is often more than crippling to a business; it is devastating. Subsequently, bankers are left holding the note for a loan for a company that no longer exists. And contrary to traditional banking wisdom, the reason is not because of poor judgement in granting the loan, because of poor management or unsound business practices, or the result of volatile market forces.
In an effort to protect their investments, bankers are considering using the Internet or a corporate intranet to conduct daily or weekly backups and ensure timely offsite archival. Although bankers might like this idea, it raises some interesting and possibly troubling questions for business.
First, how will business executives react to electronic transfer of their intellectual property? Wire transfer creates a back door to a company's information infrastructure, compromising security and offering hackers a new avenue to attack, not to mention the opening for viruses to get in.
Second, could this requirement signal a new hurdle for businesses looking for loans? That is, will start-up companies need to have backup software and hardware integrated into their business plans to be considered for loan approval? Who will determine what level of backup is sufficient to satisfy both banks and business, and who will archive the offsite material?
This problem is just beginning to surface and will likely grow as time goes on. Fortunately for all parties concerned, a growing base of products and companies offer every sort of tool imaginable to solve the quandary. Software products covering the gambit of architectures and platforms are available from all corners of the globe. Many packages feature cross-platform, enterprisewide support, including the most widely used file and database structures that Fortune 1000 companies use today. On-the-fly encryption and compression, checks for media integrity, varying levels of write-protection and file-protection, and even realtime virus scanning are just some of the features offered.
Packages are designed to make backing up pertinent data a relatively painless and automated experience. They offer such amenities as holiday tracking; saving all or some of the information in a particular folder or drive; various avenues for dealing with open files; and event log tracking with email, HTML, and Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) notification.
Similarly, the hardware these applications support comes in all shapes and sizes. From a DDS 8mm tape drive about the size of a box of tissues to humongous robotic autoloading devices the size of a compact car, something is available for everyone.
To help you get a better grasp of the tools available for implementing backup and archival solutions, the Windows NT Magazine Lab compiled the following list of backup software vendors (Backup Software Vendor List). The software solutions listed are in short form, without regard to capabilities, scalability, or performance. Reviews on specific software packages will follow in the coming months to help you make informed decisions when implementing or upgrading backup technology. Archival is no longer an afterthought for today's systems administrators, it is a prerequisite.