Continuous Data Protection: Securing Data

It’s virtually a no-brainer. Your data is backed up the instant you make a change to it — any change, no matter how small. You can retrieve it immediately. That’s right; no need to hassle with locating and accessing the right backup tape. And the expense is easily justified by the time you save from not having to redo work lost since the system was last backed up using traditional methods — whether that was an hour ago, last night, or last week.

Given all this, small wonder that enterprises in increasing numbers are implementing continuous data protection, aka CDP.

“CDP is rapidly turning out to be one of the major technologies emerging to protect all-important enterprise data,” says Jim Addlesberger, president and CEO of NavigateStorage, a Boston-based systems integrator specializing in data storage and backup.

Of course, IT departments have been doing backup and recovery for more than 40 years, but until recently it has been the practice to make periodic copies of all of your most important data onto tape. That tape is subsequently detached from the network and stored in a safe place. Most enterprises take it a step further by making copies of such backup tapes and keep them offsite for extra protection.

Something Completely Different

But CDP takes a different approach entirely. “Backup isn’t the issue — protection is the issue,” says Mike Karp, a senior analyst at Enterprise Management Associates in Portsmouth, N.H. “Everyone does backups. The question is, can you recover data in its correct state at the exact point at which it needs to be recovered?”

“Agree,” says Benjamin Aronson, president of Aronson & Associates Inc., a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based IT consulting firm. “Recovering data from tape is an arduous, time-consuming chore,” he says. “No one likes to do it. Frequently it doesn’t work. And you don’t necessarily — by definition of the process — get back all the data you need.” On the other hand, adds Aronson, CDP promises seamless backup, seamless recovery and virtually nonexistent administrative overhead.

But to implement CDP requires a major shift in focus: from thinking about backup as a time-based action to an event-based one, according to Karp. With traditional backup methods and supporting technologies, data copying is instigated according to a predefined schedule. This could be every week, every night or every hour, depending on the needs of your business. However, with CDP, every time you make a change to data, that “event” triggers the change to be copied incrementally onto the backup device. Later on, if you want to recover a previous version of that data, you scan through the data — using the “recovery” interface provided by the CDP application — and find the precise snapshot of the data that you require.

“Say a virus gets into your system, and you don’t realize it for several hours,” says Farid Neema, president of Peripheral Concepts Inc., a storage-management consultancy based in Santa Barbara, Calif. “You want to go back to that exact point in time before that virus was introduced. The difference between CDP and the traditional periodic backups of data — even if done every hour — is that with traditional methods, you can lose a substantial amount of work. This can be serious for many professionals, but for people in the financial services or other transaction-intensive industries it can be disastrous.”

And it seems that IT managers are getting it. A recent survey by Peripheral Concepts found that the number of enterprise sites that have already implemented CDP grew from 34 percent in 2005 to 43 percent this year. In 2007, that number will increase to 58 percent.

And, according to the participants in the study, CDP is extremely easy to justify: return on investment (ROI) of implementing CDP was achieved in less than two years by 61 percent of respondents.

Why Wait?

Given the overwhelming arguments in favor of implementing CDP, why are some enterprises still hesitating? There are several reasons, according to Karp. “Most CDP products have been developed by smaller vendors, which makes enterprises nervous,” he says. “Moreover, they are stand-alone products, not integrated with the mainstream data backup applications sold by larger vendors.” What’s required: easy integration of CDP with enterprises’ existing backup and recovery products and processes.

Understandably, most IT managers are reluctant to force their employees to learn yet another backup tool. “But when CDP is integrated and accepted as an ‘evolutionary’ improvement to existing backup-and-recovery processes,” adds Karp, “sales of the technology will really take off.”