Death of the Backup Window

Data is growing at an exponential rate, and it will most likely continue to do so for quite a while (or forever).  While this staggering growth is amazing in itself, another key element of data that is changing and cannot be overlooked is Accessibility.  

Access is everything.  It is increasingly apparent that we are no longer just in the “digital age”.  We have progressed to an era of on-demand access.  Social media and mobile connectivity have nurtured an impatient, always-connected culture that relies on instant data accessibility.  Not unlike Burger King’s “Have it your way” motto, we are accustomed to getting data when, where, and how we want it - no questions asked. This mindset leaves us with very little tolerance for downtime or outages of any sort.  For many users, myself included, suffering through five minutes of GMail downtime feels more like five hours.  

As “On-Demanders”, we expect this same availability in the workplace.  Email, file storage, and applications need to be accessible at all times.  This includes nights and weekends. Let’s face it - The continuous 8-hour work day is something we will probably tell our grandchildren about. For better or for worse, we are married to our laptops, smartphones, and tablets throughout the day.  We work from the the car, the plane, the couch, and at the dining room table.

So what does all of that have to do with backup windows?

Everything.  Most can agree that backups are no longer an afterthought.  When architecting a platform to support any type of service, backup methodology is as important as production design.  Just as productions systems have evolved with levels of high availability and redundancy to provide for the 24x7 world, backup platforms are doing the same.

In the past, it was acceptable to run backup jobs overnight as backup windows often allowed for 12+ hours for everything to complete. When full backups were taken during the weekend, 48+ hours were common. Backup windows existed during periods of low utilization of production systems to avoid performance and accessibility issues.  In most cases, backup windows didn’t directly translate to downtime, but the concept was clearly designed for the 9-to-5 workday.

We are reaching a point where there is no time of “low utilization”.  Data is growing and changing constantly - day and night.  In many environments, 15-minute intervals for snapshots are already required to properly protect data and minimize loss.  I think it is safe to say that these intervals will only continue to shrink.  In addition, users expect the same level of access and performance at 3am as they get at 3pm, if not more so. (Many of us are even more impatient when we’re sleepy.)

With all of these factors combined, we can bid farewell to the backup window.