Hardware vs. Software Backup & DR
There have been a lot of changes to disaster recovery since I started my career in IT years ago. Back then, the hardware stored things and the software moved backups to tape. It was a simple if somewhat stilted environment. It also took forever, as anyone who did “fulls” on the weekend can tell you. An all weekend backup window can really put a damper on things. Like when tapes need to be changed. Of course, that was before “the cloud”.
Now, we have many of those functions converging. Hardware is becoming “smart” and can now make copies of itself. Software is becoming smart as well, with the ability to search through catalogs of backup files to show multiple instances of files, or different versions. So – how do you fit these into your environment?
Smart hardware platforms and arrays have sprung up almost everywhere. From the old days of JBOD – Just a Bunch of Disk to intelligent and aware arrays, the mechanisms controlling storage are trying to streamline functions that plague the storage admin. These days, storage appliances are able to quiesce data on the volumes, make snapshots of those volumes, and often times replicate those volumes between like appliances, or via 3rd party APIs to other storage, like the cloud.
There are many advantages to this approach. Since these appliances are now placing data using ILM strategies, the appliance usually knows what data resides where. Data can be snapped quickly, often in just milliseconds. Hardware based replication to other storage for DR or backup purposes is much faster than traditional backup. This is often accomplished using just changed data, and then letting the hardware figure out how to make full snapshots of this in the background. A very nice solutions for hot- or warm- backup sites.
Software solutions traditionally take longer for backups. It takes time to traverse or “walk” the filesystems involved. This is slower than SAN or NAS based snapshots. Software allows for storage that is not associated with hardware appliances to be backed up. This includes individual machines and drives that may not be hosted on a SAN or NAS. Even critical desktops and laptops.
Software also is a great solution for its ability to collect information on the files it is backing up. All the file attributes are collected and organized into a catalog that is user searchable, in the event that only one file or email needs restored. Catalogs are very organized and searchable by storage and backup admins. If you haven’t read my article entitled Is Backup Software dead?“, it goes into a bit more detail on these advantages.
Appliances are often hybrids of both types of backups. They consist of a hardware appliance that stores file and catalog information locally, stores a copy of the latest backup locally, and often times offers the ability to store older backups off-site. Appliances do not address the speed of SAN or NAS based backups. But appliances speed up software based backups and offload the computing load that traditionally has been reserved for a server running backup software.
Backups are a part of life in the IT shop. Between accidental deletion of files, ransomware, and just plain disasters, you would be crazy not to do them. How you do them is changing on a consistent basis. As new technologies come out, the face of backups and disaster recovery changes. Make sure that you are taking advantage of all the new technology that is being offered.
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