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How complex is your backup environment?

Posted by Preston on 2009-12-07

Something I’ve periodically mentioned to various people over the years is that when it comes to data protection, simplicity is King. This can be best summed up with the following rule to follow when designing a backup system:

If you can’t summarise your backup solution on the back of a napkin, it’s too complicated.

Now, the first reaction a lot of people have to that is “but if I do X and Y and Z and then A and B on top, then it’s not going to fit, but we don’t have a complex environment”.

Well, there’s two answers to that:

  1. We’re not talking a detailed technical summary of the environment, we’re talking a high level overview.
  2. If you still can’t give a high level overview on the back of a napkin, it is too complicated.

Another way to approach the complexity issue, if you happen to have a phobia about using the back of a napkin is – if you can’t give a 30 second elevator summary of your solution, it’s too complicated.

If you’re struggling to think of why it’s important you can summarise your solution in such a short period of time, or such limited space, I’ll give you a few examples:

  1. You need to summarise it in a meeting with senior management.
  2. You need to summarise it in a meeting with your management and a vendor.
  3. You’ve got 5 minutes or less to pitch getting an upgrade budget.
  4. You’ve got a new assistant starting and you’re about to go into a meeting.
  5. You’ve got a new assistant starting and you’re about to go on holiday.
  6. You’ve got consultant(s) (or contractors) coming in to do some work and you’re going to have to leave them on their own.
  7. The CIO asks “so what is it?” as a follow-up question when (s)he accosts you in the hallway and asks, “Do we have a backup policy?”

I can think of a variety of other reasons, but the point remains – a backup system should not be so complex that it can’t be easily described. That’s not to ever say that it can’t either (a) do complex tasks or (b) have complex components, but if the backup administrator can’t readily describe the functioning whole, then the chances are that there is no functioning whole, just a whole lot of mess.

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