Backup Solutions

Data backup is one of those subjects that doesn’t come up until a disaster strikes.  It is then that you discover that your backup hasn’t been working properly, the data is old and out of date or it’s corrupt.  Anyone that has worked in IT has probably come across one of those situations in there working life.  So how do we ensure that it doesn’t happen to your business.

Backup 101

Backup is as important a service as your frontline applications, without it you are exposing yourself to possible data loss which in turn can have a major impact on your business.

When thinking about back up try to consider some of the following points:

  • Choose a reliable backup software vendor, we recommend BackupAssist for Windows Server
  • Identify the data that needs to be backed up, when it needs to be backed up and how long it should be retained for.
  • Create a backup policy that describes the back up process for the business and ensure that someone has responsibility for its action.
  • Look at how your business data is distributed, is it centrally located on a server or do the users have local data on their PCs.
  • Do you need full server restores i.e. the entire OS or are you only interested in data backup.
  • What data types are you backing up: files, databases, code, video, music etc.
  • Where are the back ups performed i.e. a on premise server, users PCs or cloud hosted.
  • How quickly do you need to recover data?
  • Create a recovery test plan, the biggest mistake businesses make is assuming that the back up works.
  • Where to store the backup media? keeping a back up drive attached to a server is convenient but if the server was stolen or lost in a fire then you’ve lost the back up as well.
  • Encryption, if you are holding client data it is your responsibility to keep this data secure.  If the data is encrypted while at rest on a server is the back up also encrypted?
  • RAID is NOT a back up solution, many people believe that if they have a RAID system in their server they have a back up, this is not the case.  RAID is a fault tolerance system that is designed to keep a server operational when it suffers a hardware issue i.e. disk failure.

Backup devices

There are a number of ways that a business can back up their data, software vendors provide agents for backing up PCs and servers but they all need somewhere to put the backed up data.  In the old days the only real option was tape, these were sometimes unreliable systems that took an age to backup even the smallest amount of data.  The tape technology has improved over the years but the new way of thinking is moving away from tape to digital devices i.e. disk backup or cloud.  This allows for faster backup/restore and provides a more reliable service.

For the average small business the requirement for back up is likely to be smaller, however with the data that even a small business produces it needs to understand that any solution that is selected is scalable for the future.

External (USB/Disk)

One of the simplest ways of back up is using an external device, a USB drive or external hard disk.  Both are acceptable ways of backing up data but they do have their drawbacks:

  • They can be slow to copy large amounts of data.
  • Quality of the devices can vary considerable which could result in their failure which in turn means that backups are unsuccessful or worse you can’t restore data.
  • In the case of USB drives the physical size could mean it is easily lost and your data could fall into the wrong hands.
  • Limited scalability.
  • Cost, from the outset it looks like a cost effective way to storing back ups however as data grows this may not be the case.
  • Backup software can have limited functionality.
  • Only really a solution for small and localised backup scenarios.
Cloud

Cloud back up is relatively new to the IT world but the possibilities that it offers businesses from the one man company to the biggest enterprise is massive.  There are a number of Pro’s to cloud based backup:

  • Data is stored off site, eliminating the need for a staff member to remember to take a back home or store in a secure location.
  • There are no limits to the amount of data that is stored, you pay for the data storage amount as you need it – flexible.
  • Allows data restoration tests.
  • Configurable backup software maintained by the vendor.
  • Flexible retention periods of back ups.

However the biggest issue with cloud back up is the bandwidth it requires.  The initial backup process can be time-consuming over a low speed internet connection and this needs to be factored into the cost of cloud backup solutions.

Conclusion

Backup strategy is affected by all the elements of how your business is structured and how users interact with the systems.  This article has focused on more traditional IT where the servers and users data is on premise.  If the business was cloud based, for example they were using Office 365 then the back up requirements changes drastically.  Namely because cloud service brings with it its own data back up, retention and recovery services that are “baked in” to the service offering.  This means that business don’t need to buy expensive backup devices/systems to ensure their data is secure.  Servers don’t need backups managing by IT staff as this is all done by the vendor.  Couple this with technologies like OneDrive that ensures that the users data is also backed up automatically, if they should have their laptop stolen they don’t loose their work.  For that belt and braces approach there is cloud service backup vendors, these provide a service that backs up data held within the cloud so business can have extended retention periods and restore data that may have been accidently deleted many months ago.

As with most IT services it boils down to cost, however sometimes it’s easy to focus on the headline figure and not the value of the service.  I guess you could liken it to car insurance, most of us will never need to make a claim but we all know that if the worse happens we’re covered.