What is electronic vaulting?

Electronic vaulting usually fits between tape backup and disk mirroring as part of an overall data protection plan.

Electronic vaulting (e-vaulting), or tape vaulting has been used by companies to mean different things. It typically fits between tape backup and disk mirroring as part of an overall data protection plan. It can be a service offering, a product, a feature of a product, or some combination of these. However, in all cases, electronic vaulting involves moving some amount of data from a primary site to another (secure) location via a network.

Electronic vaulting can be valuable to all types and sizes of companies, although it's growing increasingly popular for small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) with limited IT staff, and for larger companies looking to protect a specific segment of users and data cost effectively, such as mobile laptop users.

It's typically implemented as part of a disaster recovery (DR) or business continuance plan. Many legal regulations such as HIPAA and Sarbanes-Oxley require that information be preserved, regardless of disasters.

Typically, well-architected DR plans include several levels, or tiers, of protection. Data and applications are protected according to their value and regulatory requirement. The most widely recognized set of DR guidelines and levels was established by the nonprofit SHARE organization, which defined eight levels of DR, of which electronic vaulting is one.

The lowest DR level is tier 0, which provides no offsite data protection, up to level 7, which provides no loss of data and nearly instantaneous sub-second business continuance in case of a disaster. Certainly, there are tremendous cost differences, ranging from no cost for level 0 to up to millions of dollars to implement a level 6 or level 7 DR plan. Many organizations that haven't created a DR plan and created offsite copies of data have implicitly implemented a level 0 DR plan with no protection.

A tier 1 DR plan provides offsite DR continuity by manually shipping tapes to offsite storage. This method is commonly deployed, and may be the only DR level implemented within an organization. However, the recovery process can be very lengthy, often requiring weeks to become operational after a disaster.

Tier 2 improves on tier 1 by providing standby equipment at the secondary site. Backup data is typically sent via tapes to a secondary facility that also has systems in place to resume operations. This typically provides the ability to recover in less than a day and provides a recovery point objective (RPO) between one hour and 24 hours.

Electronic vaulting can be considered tier 3 DR. This provides the same features as tier 2, along with more timely transmission of data. Unlike tier 2, which involves physical shipment of tapes, electronic vaulting transfers backup data to the remote site. The movement of data to another site electronically may be accomplished by several means, including the use of a virtual tape library (VTL), along with the VTL's replication capabilities. Several open-systems and mainframe VTL vendors provide the capability to replicate images between sites through the VTL.

However, the term electronic vaulting has grown to encompass nearly any method of backing up data over a network to a remote location. Some examples of remote-backup offerings include EMC Corp.'s Avamar and Mozy offerings, EVault Inc. (a Seagate company), Iron Mountain Inc. LiveVault and SunGard, to name a few. However, it should be noted that these types of service offerings typically do not include hot site equipment, and thus fit more closely with a tier 2 DR level.

For those interested, the higher tier 4 DR introduces local disk-based copies of data (also known as clones). A local clone isn't the same as a copy-on-write image -- often known as a snapshot. The clone provides true DR in case of a limited disaster, while the copy-on-write snapshot doesn't. However, even local copies provide limited DR protection. Thus, many DR plans call for a remote copy to be made, often to systems within the same data center, in order to provide true level 4 DR protection.

Moving to levels 5, 6 and 7 provide greater levels of application integrity, and smaller recovery time objectives (RTOs), with RPOs on the order of a few seconds. These may be obtained by continual asynchronous or synchronous replication, coupled with write order integrity at the application level.

Electronic vaulting can be a very beneficial addition to an overall DR scheme for large organizations, or a great first step for small-office and even home-office users. When a disaster strikes, and your duplicate data stored on DVDs or external drives is burned, flooded or blown away with the originals, you'll wish you'd implemented a remote electronic vaulting plan.

About the author: Russ Fellows is a Senior Analyst with Evaluator Group. He is responsible for leading research and analysis of product and market trends for NAS, virtual tape libraries and storage security. He is also the primary analyst for coverage of selected open-system arrays and virtualization products. Russ is a well regarded and successful industry professional with 20 years of high technology experience, including product design, product development, systems engineering, business strategy development, competitive analysis and portfolio management within both the vendor and end-user groups.

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