The conference is about new “memes” in technology. Backup is not new, and it’s not popular or interesting enough to be a “meme.” So I’m not expecting to find much material for the Backup Reminder there. Obviously, it’s not as author of the FileSlinger™ Backup Blog that I got invited to the conference. Truth to tell, someone else got invited, and I got deputized. If you’re interested, I’ll let you know where to find the recordings when I’m done.
By next week I expect to have some backup tales to tell, as one colleague’s hard drive died a few days ago and a client’s BlackBerry just “blew up.” But for today I wanted to talk just a bit about how wide this world of backups and storage really is.
It’s becoming clearer and clearer to me that enterprise IT and personal computing have almost nothing in common. Some of you reading this may work in large organizations and wonder what I’m talking about, because you have a Dell on your desk and you use Microsoft Office and that’s not too different from what you have at home. But I’ve been doing some writing for a corporate IT department, and it’s not just the scale that makes IT in large companies different from the kind of small and home office computing I’m familiar with.
The company I’m working for has about 650 employees, which means they’re not technically a large company, but since most of my clients have zero employees, it seems pretty big to me. And it’s big enough that it doesn’t just need to implement familiar things (like Windows and Microsoft Office) on hundreds of machines; it employs software and hardware that a small business would have no use for. And guess who gets to explain what the IT department does to the rest of the company?
So there I sit interviewing people each month, attempting to create mental parallels with thing I’m familiar with and thanking the gods that I don’t work in a corporate IT department. I’ve done some freelance computer consulting, and on the whole it’s a pretty thankless task. Sometimes you get to be a hero, but most of the time you’re doing something tedious, and sometimes you have to tell people that their hard drive is hosed and it’s too late to make a backup. Ergh.
I asked one of the IT people I was interviewing about what the company did for backups. Like many—probably most—big companies, they back up to tape and send the tapes offsite. Except, so far as I can tell, there are several different systems (not only for multiple locations, but because there’s an IBM midrange running the Enterprise Resource System and a Windows system for everything else, plus assorted specialized software for certain facilities. And the R&D folks will decide to run long calculations overnight and mess up the backup windows, or back up their data to the wrong drive share, and then things get lost if there’s a need to restore. And restoring from tape, of course, takes hours.
I don’t care what these people get paid—it’s not enough.
Fortunately for me, I don’t have to become an expert in enterprise IT to do this job. And I made the decision early on to keep the focus of this e-zine/blog on small and home office computing. That’s what I know—and I know a lot more about it now than when I started writing this Backup Reminder in 2003. (Four years ago this month, in fact, right after I recovered from a marathon data-rescue and reinstallation.)
But there’s still a whole lot I don’t know—and am not sure I want to know. This was brought home to me by the SearchStorage.com “Disk Storage Final Exam,” which asks questions about hard disk technology for the enterprise. Based on my existing knowledge, I couldn’t answer any of the questions with certainty. Even when I checked the “see answer” buttons (which open new windows to articles; a trifle confusing), I didn’t get all of them right, though some of that was because the scoring is extremely picky: sometimes they wanted one-word answers instead of two, or vice-versa, and everything has to be in all caps.
SearchStorage (which gave this blog an award back in January, to my everlasting surprise) also has a quiz about data backup. This one doesn’t have an automatic scoring feature, and one of the “answer” links appears to go to the wrong page, because remote backup definitely is not the same thing as single-instance storage. That came clear pretty quickly, even though I’d never heard of single-instance storage before taking that quiz. (What I am hearing about a lot is “deduplication,” which is aimed at achieving the same thing.) Nor had I heard the term “hot backup,” though I’d certainly encountered the concept.
It was worth taking the backup quiz, and I may explore a few of the items further, but the phrasing of the questions seems a bit vague. Without actually reading the articles, it’s hard to see what they might be getting at. I suspect the point of the quiz is to get you to read the articles, but as it stands, I’m not sure it’s that effective at testing what you already know about backups.
But that begs the question of what I would put on a quiz about backups. I’ll have to think about that one.