Magazine article University Business

Data Backup in the Age of the Cloud: Best Practices for Backing Up Data and Retrieving It Quickly When Necessary

Magazine article University Business

Data Backup in the Age of the Cloud: Best Practices for Backing Up Data and Retrieving It Quickly When Necessary

Article excerpt

In just three years, enrollment at Lone Star Community College grew by about 50 percent. The six-campus system, located in the north Houston metro area, now has more than 95,000 students and has experienced explosive data growth, as well--from 40 terabytes to 1.6 petabytes.

A data collection that big is hard to imagine. But as of April 2011, the entire U.S. Library of Congress had amassed 235 terabytes of data, and a petabyte is more than four times that, according to Michael Chui, a principal at consulting giant McKinsey & Company.

The growth prompted IT standardization in the sprawling, decentralized system and an overhaul of Lone Star's data backup process and technology.

Reliably managing backups on any campus is complicated by the need to offer a high-availability IT environment while accommodating a BYOD student body demanding greatly expanded data volume. Like other utilities, these services tend to be noticed only when something goes wrong.

Navigating these demands can be made easier by keeping in mind some of the following evolving best practices.

Defining recovery objectives

Officials must decide how far back recovery should reach and how quickly recovery must happen. They may also have to choose how much data they're willing to lose in a backup failure. "Whenever we look at backup recovery, every application, every chunk of data, gets treated that way," says Link Alander, Lone Star's chief information officer. "But everything we leave out there ... can be recovered."

At Oklahoma City Community College, business continuity and disaster recovery policies are established in consultation with individual academic divisions and operational business units. They set service license agreement-like parameters for recovery point objectives and pre-identify applications and data containers that need to be brought back up, and in what order, says Rob Greggs, director of IT infrastructure. There are also plans for maintaining IT services even if, say, the campus got destroyed by a tornado.

Rethinking data infrastructure

As policies and standards change, IT leaders must adjust not only their procedures but also infrastructure design. "It's the evolution of the business application, the evolution of and the development of new business processes," says Greggs. "IT is about doing more with less and doing everything about the business model in a more efficient way. But that evolution requires constant attention and review."

Accelerating change in technology and user demands means no solution lasts long. Until recently, investments in IT architectures and platforms could be expected to last at least three, or, if lucky, up to seven years. Now, there's no such extended shelf life. "It's not a set-it-and-forget-it type of thing; it's a definitely dynamic and evolving thing," Greggs says.

And, of course, these technology upgrades must be done within budget.

Moving to the cloud

Keeping up with increased volume of traffic and shifting user demands requires maintaining operational flexibility, putting a pre mium on reducing complexity. This makes the idea of moving a portion of backup off-premise more attractive--to public or private (or hybrid) clouds, some of which are hosted and managed by outside vendors.

Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business has managed to slash on-premise data backup by 70 percent, with most of that moving to a university-managed private cloud. Chief Technology Officer John Carpenter expects there will no on-campus backup within two or three years.

In his view, backup is now so commoditized--and reliable--that outsourcing is a logical choice to free up in-house IT talent. "Backup has become plumbing, just like wireless and wired communications," he says. "I'm basically farming out all of the aspects that are plumbing and keeping in-house the things that are either critically important to us or a critical application, or things that that are a little bit more cutting edge, or in development or enhancements. …

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