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The Evolution of Data Backup Strategies and Technologies


Ashish Jain

December 01, 2017

The importance of data in today’s business environment cannot be overstated. Businesses are delving deep into the data sea to derive quantified insights to drive intelligent business decisions, improve processes and ultimately positively impact the company bottom line. The rise of data has been in order since the 1970’s when dimensional data marts were used by ACNielsen and IRI to improve retail sales. While the foundations of the data warehouse were being laid at that time, it was not until the 1980’s when the genesis of the modern day data warehouse took place. In the 1988 IBM Systems Journal article ‘An architecture for a business information system’, IBM highlighted the importance of a modern day data warehouse and elucidated the need of an architecture that could draw together and consolidate “various strands of informational system activity within the company.” However, it also became evident over a period of time that along with storing data, data back-up was equally important.

From Punch Cards to Magnetic Tape

As information storage continued to evolve to handle the growing volumes of data, the 1960’s witnessed the rise of punch cards. However, by the end of the 60’s, another contender had begun to surpass the popularity of these punch cards and that was Tape. A single magnetic roll of tape could store as much data as 10,000 punch cards and until the mid-1980’s became the favored way of storing data.

The rise of hard disk storage and disk back up

The late 90’s and early 2000 witnessed the rise of hard disk storage and disk back up. Hard drive technology was evolving rapidly and disk replaced tape as a viable alternative. However, as the data volumes continued to grow, a disk or tape-based backup strategy proved to be difficult to manage as these demanded the IT team or a courier to physically transfer the backup disks or tapes to an off-site location. Accessing these back up tapes or disks became time consuming and labor intensive since to access one piece of backed up data, an IT admin or courier had to go to the off-site location, sift through the numerous disks or tapes, find the right one, drive back to office and set it up and then finally gain access to the data. Maintenance of these back up also became harder and in the event of a disaster, it was almost impossible to recover important data.

Flash Storage and SAN take center stage

Over a period of time business intelligence data also began to increase owing to greater computing power and the rise of the internet. We then witnessed the rise of Flash Storage to enable better data storage and high performance of applications. As the data avalanche increased, virtually every industry began to gather and store more data to extract greater value from it. We were officially in the age of Big Data. However, businesses realized that not only did they have to solve the problem of storing and backing up humongous data volume, they also had to ensure greater data access for high-velocity data analysis. This intrinsic need gave birth to new storage technologies such as SAN. SAN offered better application performance by providing a network of storage devices for block-level network access to storage. SAN not only improved application performance but also improved storage utilization and application availability. The problem with SAN was that it needed highly skilled resources to assign applications to the right storage device, ensure data availability, manage storage shortages, maintain backup schedules and also recover and restore data when needed. Along with this, there was the additional responsibility to estimate future storage requirements, optimize the network for reliable data storage, and prevent application starvation by keeping up with the latest storage technologies.

The rise and rise of Cloud back-up

Research suggests that by 2020, the data universe is expected to cross 44 zettabytes or 44 trillion gigabytes. As our digital universe continued to expand, organizations had to look at technologies that made storing and backing up large data volumes faster and easier and made real-time data access for making data-driven business decisions a reality. This led to the growth of cloud storage that made storing and backing up data convenient and fast. The cloud ensured that enterprises don’t need to invest in heavy infrastructure themselves and, at the same time, ensured anywhere, anytime access to data. Cloud backup solutions also took away the burden of data management and data restoration and made it simpler for enterprises. Backup in the cloud happened automatically and continuously in a secure manner by fully encrypting it in transit and at rest without the need for expensive on-site hardware and administrative overheads.

The cloud also brought about a Disaster Recovery revolution and made Disaster Recovery available on-demand. Cloud backup and recovery solutions reduced the time spent by IT teams on frontline support and also made data recovery painless. Cloud backup ensured that organizational performance wouldn’t get impacted during the backup process ensuring fewer disruptions and greater workforce uptime. Since these virtual machines are replicated offsite, system downtime and the ensuing productivity impact could also be reduced to minutes. Along with all this, as data was stored in the cloud, it was also ready for mining and could easily be made available to meet compliance needs.

The cloud ensured that data backup and disaster recovery became scalable to meet the growing needs of the enterprise and could effortlessly match growing data volumes. It also reduced the total cost of ownership as costs were calculated on the basis of the storage capacity and not on the number of users.

Data backup today is no longer about just creating a second copy. It is more about creating the copy, recovering a piece of data when needed quickly, avoiding retrieval problems, and keeping this data safe. Thankfully, with the cloud, all these checkpoints are being covered effortlessly which is consequently helping organizations across the globe reduce the cost and time for backups and is taking away the pain of data backup.

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