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5 unstructured data backup challenges and how to handle them

Unstructured data backup requires the management and protection of vast amounts of data while keeping it available and secure. Is your backup strategy up to the challenge?

Backup admins who have worked with structured data won't find unstructured data completely unrecognizable. As with any kind of data backup, unstructured data must be accessible, secure and stored where it is suitably protected from unauthorized activities that could damage it.

Technologies that typically back up structured data also work on unstructured data. These can include NAS, cloud, disk, flash and even tape. However, there are some challenges to watch out for with unstructured data.

Data storage capacity is a major challenge. Organizations must accommodate the rapid creation of unstructured data over time. To ensure that data is protected, administrators must project how much storage is needed today, six months from now or next year.

To protect and back up unstructured data, organizations might also need to revisit policies for data management, specifically for data retention and destruction. If unstructured data files are no longer necessary, backup admins can archive or destroy them to free up space.

Unstructured data backup challenges

Along with standard backup challenges, unstructured data has its own set of difficulties due to its size and complexity. Backup admins should expect to face the following issues:

Along with standard backup challenges, unstructured data has its own set of difficulties due to its size and complexity.
  • Data storage is already expensive. Unstructured data can make it difficult to sort through and minimize unnecessary data storage.
  • Additional backup and replication costs can add up. With significant amounts of data to back up, costs associated with backup techniques, such as replication, can be expensive and might necessitate additional technical staff to manage everything.
  • Changes to primary systems might necessitate backup changes. In situations where the primary production systems are upgraded to accommodate unstructured data, an organization might need to revise its backup model and associated systems.
  • Expansion of data increases time needed for backup and disaster recovery. Backups take longer and retrieval of backup data in an emergency might also require more time. That increase in downtime might not be acceptable in terms of the organization's recovery time objectives (RTOs).
  • Compliance requirements can cause complications. If unstructured data includes protected elements, such as personally identifiable information, it can lead to additional costs.
Examples of the costs of unmanaged, unstructured data

How to address common challenges

One way to address the above and other backup challenges is to restructure the entire backup process. This can involve how the organization creates backups, backup size and frequency of creation. Some businesses might need to increase RTOs to accommodate longer data retrieval intervals or even change the technologies they use for data backups. Another way is to use data compression and deduplication to reduce the size of unstructured data files, but that can affect performance.

Unstructured data management applications can analyze unstructured data, classify it, define its characteristics, determine where it is stored and backed up, and assign administrative privileges, all while keeping track of unstructured data's effects on storage devices and overall backup activities.

To optimize unstructured data management and protection, backup admins should do the following:

  1. Determine how much data can be stored in primary and secondary storage.
  2. Consider the use of metadata indexing and data indexing to manage unstructured data.
  3. Determine how much storage capacity is necessary and how scalable the storage is.
  4. Establish the level of automation.
  5. Examine system pricing, such as licensing fees, maintenance and support fees, cost per terabyte stored, and other costs.

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