Backup and Disaster Recovery

08-backupRecently we had a technology group meeting regarding backup and disaster recovery. During the course of the presentation, the topic generated many points of discussion regarding the best ways to perform backups and what solutions seemed to work the best in the personal experience of those in attendance. Suffice it to say, the opinions were quite varied. This made me think: if there were that many different opinions on the topic among technology professionals, then it surely must be confusing for the everyday consumer or IT professional who has not had a lot of experience in this segment of the IT industry! So, I thought I’d try to shed some light on some of the types of solutions that are available and what users may expect from them.

The types of backup solutions that are typically seen in small businesses are:

  • Portable (USB) hard drives – These are typically hooked up to a server or main PC, and files are backed up to the portable drives either automatically via software or manually by a key person in the office or the IT professional. These portable drives typically are set up to save a certain number of backups onto each drive before the oldest backups are overwritten with the newest ones. Multiple portable drives can also be used to create a rotation to extend the number of backup sets that are kept and to allow drives to be taken offsite in the event of a catastrophe.
  • Cloud backups – These are a category in and of themselves, and there are countless solutions available. Some of the most common solutions are Carbonite, Mozy, and Crashplan. These backups are typically set to run on a daily basis in an automated fashion. Some offer unlimited data storage, and others have data limits set by the package that is being paid for on a monthly basis. These online backup solutions also typically have retention period settings that determine how many days, weeks, or months the data sets are backed up for (i.e., how far you can go back and recover data).
  • BDR (Backup & Disaster Recovery) Devices – These devices are in most situations the equivalent of having a backup server in your office. They provide both onsite backup and cloud backup as well. The backups performed on these devices are typically snapshots of your in-house server that are stored both locally and in multiple data centers in different locations to provide redundant protection from catastrophes by geographically locating your data in multiple secure locations. This solution can also give you the ability to bring up a virtual instance of your server in your cloud environment if there is damage to your physical property that houses your server, or the ability to bring up a virtual instance of your server on the local appliance in your physical building in the event that your server or servers fail to provide time to fix whatever the issue might be while minimizing downtime.

The above solutions are listed in the order of how well they generally work as well as the amounts they typically cost on an ongoing basis.

Some observations I have made over the years that people may not be aware of until they have had a situation where they have a need to restore data or recover from a disaster are as follows:

  • Even if you are using a cloud backup solution, you should always still also have some form of onsite backup solution. The reason for this, depending on the amount of data you are backing up to the cloud, is that even with a modern day high speed Internet connection, you could be talking about hours or days to download all of your data from the cloud backup provider, versus restoring much more quickly from a local backup. Some cloud backup companies will overnight you a hard drive (referred to as seeding) with your data on it for a fee, but this still involves a lot more downtime as compared to just restoring from the local backup and reserving the cloud backup for a situation where your local backup has failed or you have a disaster you are dealing with at your building site.
  • A backup is only as good as your last restore. Commonly, backups are being performed and emails or status reports are sent out saying that backups are being completed successfully. However, without doing a test restore of some of the files being backed up, there is no guarantee that you could actually restore your files (whether from a cloud backup or onsite).
  • Dropbox is not a backup solution. Dropbox is a good solution to synchronize files between multiple computers, devices, and other people, but it is not a backup solution. There is revision history where you can go back and bring back old versions of files, but to restore your entire data set or entire folders all at once from dropbox is not possible with the consumer version of dropbox (which is what most people use). Only the business version of dropbox allows for full folder restores. That being said, it is still recommended to perform your own backups of your dropbox or other file synchronization software data.
  • What type of backup are we running? If you are like a lot of companies, then you likely could still just be performing file level backups. The issue with only performing file level backups and not a “bare metal” restore type backup is that if your server crashes and you have to perform a restore from a file level backup, the server will typically have to be rebuilt from scratch before the backed up data can be restored to it. This is very time consuming and contributes to a lot of downtime versus having a “bare metal” restore backup solution, which is like taking a snapshot of your server so that it can be restored from absolutely nothing in a much faster manner.

The moral of the story is that there are a lot of backup solutions out there with different functionalities. It is best to know what solutions are out there, what your current backup solution is, and what kind of downtime you are looking at in the event of hardware failure or disaster.

If you would like a review of your current backup solution setup or to talk more in-depth about the available options, feel free to contact me.