One thing I find interesting when talking to people who are new to systems administration is their attitude towards backup. When I started being paid to be responsible for servers 20 years ago, I didn’t just make sure that the server was backed up because it was my job. I made sure the server was backed up because I knew that the server and its data would be next to impossible to replace otherwise.
Even with good backups, recovering a server on which the hardware had failed was going a drawn-out process back then. There was no virtualization, so I had to replace the failed hardware component before I could start the process of recovering the server. Even with the vendor providing a same-day parts service, this sometimes meant spending a few hours waiting for a motherboard or other replacement component to turn up.
I also worried constantly because even when I took a good backup of the server, tapes and tape drives sometimes failed during recovery. This problem left the data on the failed server just as inaccessible as it would have been if I’d never backed up the server in the first place.
If you’ve started your systems administration career recently, then you work in a world of failover clusters, Exchange database availability groups (DAGs), SQL Server AlwaysOn Availability Groups, and Hybrid Cloud Storage (HCD) solutions. One example is StorSimple, which functions as a primary storage device and uses integrated capability to automatically back up critical data to the cloud. The modern data center is brimming with redundant technologies that help to ensure that if any kind of failure occurs, another instance will pick up where the failed server, application, or service left off.
With this sort of redundancy as a safety net, some new systems administrators might be under the impression that ensuring the regular backup of critical data is only a second-tier concern. As a few of my younger systems administrator friends have learned—much to their chagrin—your data center might be highly redundant and that safety net might seem strong, but it doesn’t mean that you don’t need to have a robust data-protection strategy. How many layers of redundancy your storage array has or how many nodes are in your failover cluster doesn’t matter when it comes to data corruption caused by improperly functioning applications, malware infestations, user mistakes, or even systems administrator errors.
Fortunately for all of us, as time has progressed, so has the quality of available data-protection solutions. No longer is it a matter of manually tending to a tape library, using hand-written notations to track which tapes hold each backup and which tapes have been sent offsite in case a disaster damages the onsite set. Now, you can systematize your backups through automation, using data-protection and storage technologies that are themselves far more resilient than the old backup tape. You can tailor your backup automation to ensure that the data you need—or are legally required—to back up or store is taken care of in a reliable and verifiable manner.
Other big innovations in data protection have occurred around scalability and the ability to move protected data moved seamlessly from onsite to offsite locations, specifically the cloud. If I’d had Microsoft StorSimple back when I started out, or if I’d been able to use Windows Azure Backup, I wouldn’t have had nearly as many sleepless nights.
StorSimple not only offers fully redundant primary storage, it also automatically tiers inactive data from the appliance to the cloud. And it provides the ability to take a consistent snapshot backup of one or more volumes. (You can read more about the device and its capabilities in “Seamless Hybrid Storage with StorSimple.”)
Windows Azure Backup would have relieved many of my concerns about the integrity of backup tapes and the process of moving some of them offsite. You can install Windows Azure Backup on individual servers, configuring them to back up directly to the cloud while continuing to perform local backups. You can also integrate Windows Azure Backup with System Center 2012 R2 Data Protection Manager.
Today’s administrators have a variety of technologies available to ensure that critical data can be protected and recovered without spending a lot of time each day to ensure that everything is working. HCD solutions such as StorSimple do a lot of the work automatically. To find out more about Microsoft’s cloud and hybrid storage solutions and how they can help you avoid sleepless nights worrying about your backups, visit the Cloud Storage page at http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/server-cloud/solutions/storage.aspx#fbid=-2s7iNZnD88.