Making the shift from backup to availability

Nick Cavalancia

No one really cares about the data in the backup set – whether it’s an incremental or full backup, files or a snapshot of an image, etc. Why? Because the only thing that matters to both you and your customer when a backup is needed is whether you can recover… and recover quickly. I remember the old adage “No one cares how long it took to backup, but everyone cares how long it takes to recover!” Sound about right? Your customers today are wanting to know more than just you can recover their data and applications; they’re constantly concerned with meeting their customer’s expectations of constant accessibility and availability of services. So, that’s the bar – always on, anytime, anywhere, from any device - that you need to be hitting.

So, is focusing on traditional backups outdated?

Taking the conversation deeper

criticalIt’s not so much time to throw out backup, but to more ensure everyone – you, your techs, and your customers – are thinking in terms of the availability of your customer’s business. Start with the idealistic goal – 100% availability. So, nothing ever goes down… ever. Not realistic, but that’s ok – it’s a starting point for the conversation.

Since something will break down, we take the conversation a bit deeper and now talk about which services, applications, and servers are tier 1 and critical to business operations. Keeping those parts of the business operational defines what needs to be available.

Next, we need to define availability – that is, how much lost time and data is acceptable to still have an application be classified as having been available. In backup terms, we’re talking about establishing individual recovery time objectives (RTOs) and recovery point objectives (RPOs). Since we’re trying to achieve availability – you know, where everything’s running pretty much all the time – these need to be pretty low values, like less than an hour. Some companies are even pushing a matching 15 minute RTO and RPO!

Delivering availability

deliveryNow you have to figure out how to actually deliver availability, based on that RTO/RPO combination. You may need to be looking at changing backup methods, the underlying infrastructure, a move to more virtualization, use of continual recovery, and other aspects of the backup and recovery process to build an environment where, proactively, you have backups being created in increments of the RPO to a recovery environment (which can be on-premise or in the cloud) that can facilitate spinning up the application or system in question with the latest backups in place within the time allotted by the RTO.

It’s a pretty tall order. But if you can plan, design, implement, and deliver this for your customers, you’ve now elevated your services, allowing for additional revenue streams (availability-caliber backups, recovery testing, and the actual recovery) while increasing your customer’s confidence that their business will continue to operate while in your capable hands.