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If your enterprise is like most, the data that's stored in your IT infrastructure is crucial to keeping your company in business. Simply maintaining the integrity of that data isn't sufficient. If your organization is to survive, you must also be able to recover your data should the need arise. The importance of recoverability demands that you equip yourself with the best tools available to make data recovery reliable and foolproof.

Many vendors provide enterprise backup and recovery software. Narrowing the field and choosing a product can require a lot of your time. Listing your organization's must-have features before you begin your search will help you make the most efficient use of the time you spend. Scalability, platform and application support, and specialized software agents will probably be near the top of your feature list.

With regard to scalability of backup software, ask questions about scalability that pertain to your implementation. For example, you might need to verify that the software can use multiple shared-storage devices to extend capacity and performance. Depending on the storage strategy you use, you might want to determine whether multiple backup servers can share one large storage device. Ask the vendor whether performance-enhancing features such as interleaving and serverless backup are available. If you'll be deploying a backup agent to many clients, remote push installation will be essential. Large environments will want a product that lets more than one backup administrator simultaneously access the backup software. A Web-based interface provides even more flexibility for administrators.

Obviously, you'll want to exclude vendors that don't support backing up all the platforms in your environment, but do your homework on this point. Document all the servers that you want your product to back up and create a support matrix to eliminate vendors that don't support the platform you have.

Do the same homework for your company's applications. Compile a list of the applications in your environment and, before you spend time evaluating a product, make sure that it can completely back up all your data. Be sure to include all business-critical and specialized applications in the list. Agents that expressly support the applications you use (e.g., Microsoft Exchange Server or Lotus Notes, Microsoft SQL Server or Oracle) can greatly simplify backup and restore procedures.

After you have a list of the enterprise backup applications that appear to support your organization's needs, look for advanced features and functionality that will benefit your company immediately. Strong media-management capabilities are essential for managing retention policies and quickly locating restoration media. If Network Attached Storage (NAS) or Storage Area Network (SAN) devices figure prominently in your storage strategy, find a vendor that has experience working in those environments. Some vendors' products include comprehensive storage-management capabilities to help you leverage your investment in other storage technologies. Don't forget to check out basic functionality such as reporting, scheduling, calendaring, and alerting while keeping in mind the application's ease of use.

You can't thoroughly compare offerings without considering price, of course. However, analyzing and trying to compare different vendors' pricing schemes can be an exercise in frustration. Your best approach is to define exactly which servers and applications the solution must cover, then ask the vendor for a quote of the overall costs for licensing, deploying, and maintaining a solution that specifically addresses your needs.

Don't disregard the importance of manageability when considering cost—over time, the money you spend trying to manage your backups will far outweigh the initial cost of software and hardware. The good news is that a variety of vendors listed in this Buyer's Guide offer a range of solutions to suit almost any environment. By doing your homework, you can whittle down the offerings to find the product that fits your budget and meets your needs today and that will remain flexible as your company grows.