Hot Spots: A new level of backup reporting

A bumper crop of backup reporting tools can provide invaluable insight into backup operations for you and the boss.

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Backup success rates are improving, but reliable data recovery is still a concern. Not only does data loss impact business productivity and potentially revenue, but failure to produce data could result in fines or damage to a company's reputation. Recent research from Enterprise Strategy Group found that only 28% of respondents feel confident that their data is protected. More than half worry that current backup schedules leave some...

data exposed to potential loss, while nearly 20% say they know some of their data is exposed to potential loss.

The good news is that a collection of vendor offerings has arrived to address the need to provide reporting beyond a single backup event. More recently, reporting has moved beyond the data centre. That's due to a growing concern on the behalf of executive management, who's being held accountable for compliance with regulatory mandates. Backup reporting has evolved to focus more on providing visibility into storage assets, system vulnerabilities, performance metrics, capacity trending and forecasting, service levels and compliance. Now business-level reporting defines this class of products--exposing C-level, line-of-business and compliance executives to business issues in the data protection environment.

Vendor landscape

Increased data capacity placed more pressure on the backup window and the backup infrastructure became more complex, especially as tiered storage in the form of disk and tape was introduced into backup architectures. Compliance demands forced IT into better preparedness for recovery, audit and e-discovery events. Furthermore, many backup teams were pressured to meet stringent service-level agreements (SLAs) and operational improvements.

By responding to these new demands, Bocada can be considered a pioneer in this market. The firm targets the distributed multivendor backup environments of medium- to large-sized enterprises. Bocada Enterprise is sold as a perpetual license or via a subscription model, providing flexibility to budget-challenged companies. Bocada Enterprise's longevity has bolstered its installed base, which has helped drive the product's feature set; Bocada has announced reporting and management support for the latest version of Microsoft System Center Data Protection Manager.

WysDM Software has a product that rivals Bocada's popularity, especially through its OEM relationships with Double-Take Software and EMC. WysDM for Backups stands apart with its predictive capabilities. It analyses trending data to predict critical failures, produce alerts and proactively avoids problems before they impact operations. Alerts can be triggered for conditions such as a backup failure, high restore time, component failure, atypical performance, capacity warning, compliance violation, or an unmet policy occurring now or possibly in the future.

The EMC-branded WysDM technology is delivered as EMC Backup Advisor and is bolstered by EMC's worldwide sales, services and support. For example, EMC successfully leverages Backup Advisor in its backup/recovery/archiving assessments. Backup Advisor is differentiated by its support for the EMC Disk Library, enablling virtual tape library disk capacity and utilisation reporting.

Servergraph, acquired by Rocket Software, is well-known for its niche support of IBM Tivoli Storage Manager (TSM). Servergraph has since expanded its backup app coverage to include EMC NetWorker, CA ARCserve Backup and Symantec Veritas NetBackup. The product excels with its slick graphical monitoring, self-healing capabilities and optional data centre-ready appliance delivery.

Similar to Servergraph's initial single-vendor focus, Aptare's StorageConsole originally concentrated on Symantec's Veritas NetBackup. The company added support for TSM, EMC's NetWorker and Avamar, Symantec's Backup Exec and Veritas NetBackup PureDisk, CommVault Simpana and Hewlett-Packard Data Protector. The company's partnership with Hitachi Data Systems broadens its opportunities, and its new capacity management solution--providing monitoring and reporting for primary storage capacity and utilisation--delivers new depth to the company's StorageConsole platform.

Tek-Tools' Profiler provides more depth than any of its competitors in this category, reporting on server, storage, application and backup components (although most of its customers rely on the backup reporting module). Similar to a storage resource management solution, but smaller in scale, Profiler is appealing to midsized organisations with a need for end-to-end real-time and historical resource reporting.

Symantec, with its Veritas Backup Reporter, has the distinction, like EMC, of being a backup software provider that has a reporting solution for its systems as well as its competition. Introduced last year, Veritas Backup Reporter made an impressive debut with support for top-tier backup apps. It collects data on backup processes, systems, platforms and devices, aggregating and storing the information in a relational database. It offers hundreds of out-of-the-box reports and a report wizard to extract and manipulate data.

Key features

The architecture of a backup reporting app has two important components: data collection and how that data is stored. Backup reporting tools automatically gather data on backup operations by scanning the backup app's database and error log, typically enabled by the backup ISV's APIs and oftentimes by reverse-engineering. A few use agents--small footprint code distributed on servers or devices--to collect data. An agent architecture spreads the workload and operates in the background continuously or on a schedule. Most products have an agentless approach, eliminating the need to install and manage agents on targeted servers and devices. Backup reporting vendors support a few different relational databases, and nearly all rely on users to supply them (i.e., purchase a license). Aptare includes an embedded Oracle database and Tek-Tools leverages open-source MySQL, which is reflected in the price of both vendors' solutions.

Once data is collected, the IT organisation can assess its levels of data protection. Inefficiencies and bottlenecks in the backup process are more easily highlighted so organisations can understand where gaps and vulnerabilities exist. Armed with better information, policies can be established or improved. Trending information (whether analysed manually or fed into predictive analysis features) allows administrators to eliminate surprises.

Large enterprises' backup environments are almost always characterised by the operation of more than one backup app. The ability to support more than one backup app, and perform cross-domain collection and reporting, is important because it provides administrators with the ability to correlate data from the different domains in the backup environment to get a big picture view of backup operations. Developing and publishing policies across different domains in the backup environment is another useful capability.

Each of the vendors I've mentioned has adopted a browser-based user interface that can be launched from anywhere on the network (locally or remotely). Adaptable dashboard views allow data to be formatted for any given audience. Similarly, made-to-order reports and the ability to publish them through email, an intranet, and Excel or PDF file formats are important. Customisable alerts--what events trigger them, who receives them and the method of delivery (SNMP, email, pager or console message)--differentiate reporting solutions.

Customisation, in general, is a useful attribute. For example, setting role- or user-based access to information or reports; establishing user-configurable parameters for reporting, trending and analytics; as well as generating reports by geography, business unit, app or other user-defined parameters are just a few areas where flexibility is a benefit.

Backup failures are chronic, time-consuming and costly. Deploying business-level backup reporting can change the life of a backup administrator, as well as the effectiveness of an IT organisation. In addition to assessing inefficiencies and vulnerabilities, backup reporting products enable organisations to prove recoverability of data for SLAs and regulatory mandate audits. Through these tools, IT (and its business constituents) may understand the true costs of data protection vs. SLA effectiveness. Armed with more information, companies can make better decisions for data protection, while saving time and money, increasing customer satisfaction and reducing risk.

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