Is your data safe - and accessible?

Where can businesses turn for help with protecting their data?
Written by Tony Lock, Contributor

Where can businesses turn for help with protecting their data?

Safeguarding user data has been a priority for organisations for years - so why are they so bad at it? And who can help them? Tony Lock explains.

Data protection has been a requirement and an obligation for organisations of all sizes since the beginning of IT. So why do so few organisations believe they have data protection processes working effectively? And why are an even smaller number confident they can recover data when needed?

With an ever-expanding range of data protection and recovery options becoming available to mainstream IT users, organisations have many opportunities to improve their data recovery capabilities. But given the lack of skills that organisations admit to possessing in these functions, to whom can IT professionals turn for assistance?

The answers are few and amount to a choice between the vendors of data protection and recovery systems, the channel that sells such tools or external consultants. Vendors clearly try to help by educating their target customers but too often their attempts to position the merits and challenges of the wide range of tools they sell makes it difficult for them to provide a balanced and objective view of the big picture. Specialist consultants are few and far between, and their services can be expensive and difficult for small- and medium-sized organisations to justify.

This leads us to consider the potential for the channel to help organisations with their changing requirements for data protection and recovery. Here the opportunity has perhaps never been greater. Not only are the explicit requirements faced by organisations becoming ever more onerous but user expectations are heightened as they expect their data to be instantly available, no matter how old or infrequently accessed it may be. In helping address these factors, channel operators have significant opportunity to shine.

As is well known, whenever users are asked to specify how important their data or applications are, the response is invariably: 'extremely'. In the eyes of the owner, their data is of paramount importance and needs to be easily accessible over its entire lifetime, which may well run into years or decades. Customers will, usually without thinking, also request the best possible protection in terms of backup points and recovery speeds.

Common sense dictates that demands for the best possible protection can only be justified for certain sets of information. Indeed, a recent study by the University of California at Santa Cruz showed that 90 per cent of data stored to network-attached storage (usually user files) was never accessed again, and another 6.5 per cent of the data was only accessed once more.

But with challenging internal corporate demands, and those imposed on some organisations by external regulators, it is imperative for organisations to protect their data appropriately - and be able to recover it readily.

IT departments that do not have specialist storage professionals within their ranks may not possess the understanding about just where new products and approaches might help their data protection plans.

Where does it make sense to utilise disk to disk backup, solid state disks, high speed tape or virtual tape libraries? What is the difference between data snapshots and data replication systems? And should the organisation be looking to make use of continuous data protection or archiving methods, never mind virtualised storage, deduplication and other storage technologies?

It is in answering questions such as these, especially in the mid-market and small business sectors, that the channel can make an impact. The channel can help educate both IT professionals and the business users concerning the products on offer and how they can be exploited.

Demand is likely to grow for some form of managed services to help keep sophisticated data protection systems operational, especially in organisations where skills are limited or where the existing pressure on IT staff leaves no room for added workloads.

Organisations clearly need tools and processes that provide some quantifiable and empirical means of assessing data protection and recovery requirements. Research shows that few organisations have a complete picture of just what data they have and who is using it and for which purpose; this is fundamental information required to begin to manage data protection appropriately.

Thus, the place to start is often to 'discover' just what data is out there in the enterprise and then categorise it in terms of both its importance and by which management policies it should be protected.

The channel has an opportunity to lead in explaining how to do this - but will it take it?

Tony Lock is programme director at analyst house Freeform Dynamics.

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