Backup to the Future!!

Old times forgotten

I’ve been around backup and recovery for a lot of years.  Started as a night time backup operator slinging 288MB (yes megabyte) disk packs, mounting 9-track reel to reel tape (don’t forget to check if it is write-protected) and initiating a copy (backup) on a WANG VS7310 way back in late ’80s.  My day would start at 5pm and end somewhere around 11pm or 12am.  Not a bad parttime job as I was getting my consulting business off the ground during the daytime.  Little did I know that I would thoroughly enjoy this job and in particular this function of protecting data for organizations.  I know, many of you are thinking that I should have had more hobbies, but that little parttime job has turned into quite the career for me – having now been in storage, focused on data protection for over 25 years.  I can honestly say, the approach to data protection, planning, and the strategies haven’t changed all that much – but what has changed is the technology we are able to use in order to ensure the data is protected both onsite and offsite with little to no exposure.

Cool backup script!

Back when I was with another company we did a lot of things to help the product do what the customer needed it to do through a variety of Unix scripting.  We did so much of it that some of the scripts were actually turned into real code and rolled into the product.  It was a fun time back then, very much the “wild west” for us geek types.  When I started my consulting firm in Chicago I created a community at to share out my scripts and ideas as well as gather others from the community.  It was a really fun time.  I’m an old Korn shell guy, hard to turn the corner to Perl or Python for me, but many of my peers did and took several scripts and converted to either Perl or Python.  It sure seemed like we had a lot of time on our hands back then as you think about the number of scripts that I alone wrote or modified.  I suppose we probably did because it was the nature of the beast.  The product worked well but to make it do what you wanted it to do, you needed to devote time to writing some scripts and that was just the way things were (and maybe still are in some cases).  Fast forward to 2013 and I find more and more IT has less and less “free” time on their hands.

Flat is the new Down

Think about it, research tells us budgets are flat to slightly increased across all sectors, IT hiring is increasing in select areas (not data protection) and data continues to grow at ~26% annually, then flat must be the new down.  If you are in IT, how many times have you heard this from your management?  “The business is growing, we need to continue to move ahead but unfortunately we just cannot give you any more money in your budget this year.  We need to do more with what we have.”  Or something similar?  Of the several hundred customers I have spoken to over the course of the last few years, the sentiment of this statement rang true for just about 98%.  So if we don’t have the “free” time we once had 15-20 years ago and statistics tell us we just aren’t getting the staff we need/want – then something has to give.  I think that is why more and more customers, if given a chance to re-architect its backup infrastructure would do so with another vendor.  The days of even “mild care and feeding” of your backup environment are gone.


Operating Expenses v. Capital Expenses.  The battle between the CFO and CIO always seems to end up here, OPEX v. CAPEX.  The CFO would like to see both cuts, the CIO secretly would to, but she would never let on.  There are many expenses when it comes to running an IT department – I know, I ran a department for a number of years many, many moons ago.  Purchasing new equipment (CAPEX) to meet the needs of the business, hiring the right team to operate the equipment (OPEX) are just two very simple examples of where the money goes.  Back in my day of running an IT organization, we had a variety of experienced IT professionals – DBAs, Network Admins, System Admins, Backup Admins, Security Admins, Storage Admin, Help Desk Personnel, etc.  In some cases, the SysAdmin would never touch anything having to do with the network – we had a Network Admin for that function.  However, today IT is required to wear many hats so the SysAdmin of yesterday is the SysAdmin, Network Admin, and Backup Admin or the Storage Admin is now the Backup Admin, Storage Admin, Security Admin.  You see where I am going with this – not only have we seen consolidation in our physical racks in the datacenter we have seen consolidation in the roles of our IT staff.  It is no wonder we no longer have the free time of yesterday.  It seems to me, one of the areas IT should be able to help reduce both its OPEX and CAPEX is in its Data Protection strategy and the funny thing about that is all along back when I was running an IT organization it was the same discussion.  The reality is back then it was really hard to do, today the technology is available for us to have a much more serious conversation about how we can accomplish this reduction without sacrificing value.

As a Service

When I was an industry analyst working for ESG (the Enterprise Strategy Group), I wrote the first-ever market landscape report about Backup as a Service.  This paper took a look at what some of the key challenges customers were facing at the time and what technology solutions were available to help address these challenges across the backup as a service market landscape.  My own personal observation was and is a hybrid approach to backup as a service would be the best for businesses.  A hybrid model would include on-premise equipment that would store a certain number of backup sets locally, to allow efficient and rapid recovery in the event of a file, volume or system loss while replicating data to a remote site or to the cloud for disaster recovery purposes.  That solves a number of things for the customer.  Getting data offsite as quickly as possible without having to pay a staff member to monitor tape to tape copy, shuffle those tapes to a steel grey case, fill out paperwork for the offsite vendor’s truck driver, and then re-inventory tapes when the exchange takes place.  Right here is an OPEX savings.  Eliminating duplicate tape and quite possibly the entire tape library is a CAPEX savings.  I could spend the next several paragraphs talking about other areas of savings a solution such as this may have in one’s environment but instead I will save that for yet another blog.

Closing comments

As a long time “backup guy”, I was skeptical of any Backup as a Service provider because as we all know, it isn’t about the backup it is about the restore.  Certainly, the backup needs to be successful but when the chips are down and you need to recover your data you want your restore to happen as quickly as possible, hence the hybrid model in my opinion is the best.


-Chapa, signing off

Leave a Reply