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Switch to a new data backup system without disruption

Your organization may be looking to transition to a new data backup platform. Avoid potential pitfalls and make the change seamlessly with these guidelines.

All data center technologies evolve to take advantage of new cost and performance benefits. Storage backup systems are no exception.

While moving to an improved data backup system generally makes a lot of sense, there's one issue that project planners often ignore or downplay: disruption to existing operations.

"Changing backup methods or platforms is never as easy as just putting the old platform in the bin and deploying the new one," said Steve Blow, technology evangelist at Zerto, a business continuity and disaster recovery software vendor based in Boston.

There are multiple considerations involved, such as learning the intricacies of the new platform, as well as how to recover old backups.

"This is why, for any change, an organization should be looking at ease of use, as well as ease of implementation to minimize disruption," he said.

Key steps for switching backup systems

Careful advance preparation is essential for minimizing disruption.

"The key to a successful, fluid backup strategy is planning and testing," said Mike Cobb, director of engineering for DriveSavers, a data recovery, digital forensics and e-discovery firm based in Novato, Calif. "Dedicating personnel to the ownership of this task will help streamline any needed changes."

IT needs to prepare itself for a lengthy data backup system transition process.

"If an organization has been doing backups with a particular tool and has a retention period of, say, a year, then they will have to keep not just all of those backups, but also the tool to retrieve them until the retention period has passed," said Laz Vekiarides, CTO of ClearSky Data, a hybrid cloud enterprise storage service based in Boston. "There's just no getting around it: For some period of time, you'll have to have a foot in two backup products, unless you are willing to let go of all the backups associated with the former tool."

Organizations also need to perform the transition in a way that ensures critical resources -- such as servers and applications -- will not be vulnerable to data loss.

"To that end, [you] should ... perform a walk-through or tabletop exercise to ensure all aspects have been addressed, and follow that plan accordingly," said Adrian Moir, lead technology evangelist at IT management provider Quest Software, based in Aliso Viejo, Calif. "Data backup is an organization's safety net. And, as such, organizations need to ensure that they will not be put into a position where they're forced to operate without recoverable backups during transition from one product to another."

There are two approaches an enterprise can take to transition its data backup system in a nondisruptive manner, said John Benjamin, principal consultant at data protection vendor Arcserve, based in Eden Prairie, Minn.

"First, companies can run their replacement backup solution concurrently with the current backup solution." This approach allows for a greater level of assurance and zero disruption among any current backup schedules or service-level agreements, he said.

Another option is to immediately switch over to the new technology.

"This could mean going from a file-based backup solution to an image-based backup platform, allowing the image-level data protection to protect data, servers and applications from the date of installation going forward," Benjamin said. "On the flip side, the previous solution can be kept as an archive [within the organization], maintaining a single license of the old backup solution if a future need to recover data is required."

Avoiding pitfalls

Changing backup methods or platforms is never as easy as just putting the old platform in the bin and deploying the new one.
Steve BlowTechnology evangelist, Zerto

The road to a successful data backup system transition is littered with potential pitfalls. Scheduling disruptions, for instance, can easily trap the unwary. An organization needs to maintain reliable backup schedules throughout the transition process, Blow advised.

"These schedules are unlikely to be something you can transfer [directly] across multiple backup platforms, so there is a learning curve to be had here when changing platforms," he said.

Meanwhile, if the transition team fails to identify the proper data to back up or, just as important, the time needed to restore critical data, the consequences can be huge.

"For example, if critical data has to be accessible as soon as four hours after a data loss event, but the data restore takes three days as a result of the chosen storage technology, then it's a bad plan," Cobb noted.

Also, be sure to carefully examine all existing software and support licenses. Will you need to renew any of these agreements during the transition period? This can create an unanticipated expense, and you may find yourself doubling down on technology you were hoping to replace, Vekiarides explained.

"To minimize this 'double coverage,' identify the proper timing window that aligns licensing and contracts with their expiration dates so you don't have to spend any more money than is absolutely necessary," he said.

Finally, staff communication is an important part of the migration process from the old data backup system to the new.

"Make sure your IT teams are aware of the changes and milestone progress along the way," said Douglas Gallimore, core infrastructure consultant at IT service management company Sparkhound, based in Baton Rouge, La.

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