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The Hidden Value of CDP

December 29, 2009


Once seen as a possible evolution of backup technology, continuous data protection has recently been identified as a complement to backup, rather than a replacement.
By Kristine Mitchell, senior marketing manager for NetBackup, Symantec Corporation.
Continuous data protection (CDP), also called continuous backup or real-time backup, has had its share of ups and downs over the past few years. CDP refers to backup of computer data by automatically saving a copy of every change made to that data, essentially capturing every version of the data that the user saves. Once seen as a possible evolution of backup technology, IT organizations have recently identified CDP as a complement to backup, rather than a replacement. Recent advancements in the technology have driven many IT organizations to give CDP a second look. Today’s most advanced CDP solutions can deliver recovery points to within seconds of a failure or corruption and reduce recovery times dramatically.
Indeed, CDP promises to alleviate legitimate information management pain points that most IT organizations now feel. No gaps in protection. No backup windows, even for virtual machines. Rapid recovery to any point in time. What’s not to like?
At the same time, however, competition for funding is fierce in the current economic climate. And when presented solely as an enhancement to backup, the business case for CDP may not yet appear to provide sufficient incentive for investment and, consequently, remains a largely untapped technology.
Yet, a growing number of organizations are finding that CDP provides measurable benefits in areas other than backup. And, when these use cases are considered, the intrinsic value of CDP is sufficiently compelling to warrant its purchase as more than a supplement to basic data protection.

Beyond Backup

While improving backup operations is a valid reason for using CDP, this technology can also play an effective role in disaster recovery, storage utilization, and e-discovery.
For example, organizations that implement off-site disaster recovery typically replicate data and send it over a properly sized WAN link to the target site. The trouble is, it is virtually impossible to determine the appropriate size of a WAN link without also knowing how much data is changing, how fast it is changing, and when it is changing. CDP provides this information.
Unlike daily incremental backups, which can only offer limited insight into how much data has changed over the last 24 hours, CDP actually tracks changes on individual application servers so that organizations can measure actual data change rates. The accuracy of this data that CDP provides ensures that WAN links are neither too large nor too small for the loads they will handle.
CDP can also help organizations maximize their use of existing storage which, in turn, can save costs by obviating the need to purchase new storage. By using the same disk that CDP uses for recovery to run test and development applications as well, organizations can delay or eliminate investments in additional storage. In other words, organizations can leverage CDP to use existing storage for multiple purposes.
Another compelling use case of CDP is to facilitate e-discovery. Unfortunately, it is not unusual today for system administrators to be tasked with responding to multiple concurrent e-discovery requests, which can quickly consume resources on production servers. CDP solutions that provide integration with an e-discovery solution can help alleviate this problem by presenting snapshots to the e-discovery server. This not only accelerates searches and minimizes the impact of searches on production servers, it also makes it easier for IT to retain relevant information by keeping the snapshot or backing it up to tape.

Better Data Protection

Of course, new uses cases for CDP do not diminish its value for data protection. CDP enables organizations to eliminate the backup window for applications and databases while increasing recovery points and improving recovery times.
Because CDP captures all changes to applications and databases, with the most advanced solutions streaming a copy of every changed block of data to a lower, more cost effective tier of storage, it not only eliminates potential data loss but also helps control storage costs. What’s more, CDP can also reduce the strain on data center infrastructure by eliminating the network and server resources associated with traditional scheduled backups.
And greater efficiencies are on the horizon as CDP and other data protection technologies are being integrated more closely with backup software. With these solutions, CDP is typically set up and configured outside of the backup software but once this is done, the backup software assumes the ongoing management of CDP and the copies of data that CDP creates. IT can then set and administer CDP policies through a common backup management console. Administrators may also be able to leverage their backup software agent to create application-consistent recovery points with their CDP solution, which can then be used to create snapshots for use with long-term backup to disk or tape.

Business Value

As organizations look for effective ways to protect against data loss and improve recovery times for important applications and databases, CDP will increasingly be adopted as a data protection solution. Indeed, CDP significantly improves both recovery point objectives and recovery time objectives. Integration with backup applications simplifies both recovery and policy administration by enabling backup administrators to use standard backup policies and agents to protect applications with CDP.
Better yet, CDP offers quantifiable benefits outside of data protection. As these use cases demonstrate, the business case for CDP is compelling. Whether used for disaster recovery, storage utilization, e-discovery or as a data protection supplement, CDP is an investment that delivers.

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