Many companies struggle to decide what they really need for I.T. network backup. Everyone knows that there is a need to backup critical files such as accounting and inventory data. For many organizations they understand that email is also a mission critical application and they need to have a backup strategy for this as well.
Where the whole process becomes difficult is when you start considering all of other elements of your IT network and you are not sure what to do.
Do you need to image or snapshot your server so that recoveries are easier and faster?
Do you need to backup files such as archived documents and images of scanned documents?
Do you need critical application backups so that you can get them running right away in the event of a failure? ERP systems and data bases come to mind in this situation.
Traditional backups have used tape or some form of electronic media to backup files. This is especially true of small businesses (SMBs) where the cost of the backup has to be managed. In recent years large portable USB hard drives have become a common tool for backup with the ability to have a rotated set.
Getting good copy of backup files offsite frequently (ideally daily) is one of the reasons the hard drive system has been popular. The drives are not costly and with at least a three drive rotation one can always be off site each day.
The challenge of all of these systems is the manual nature of at least part of the process. Files need to be created and transferred to the portable media and then physically removed each day.
Cloud based backup is one solution
A solution to this dilemma is cloud based backup. Commonly seen as a more automated and convenient solution since the data is removed from your premise immediately, it also has its draw backs.
As the size of your backup grows the amount of band width and the time window needed to complete a backup becomes a challenge. In addition if there is a failure requiring a complete restore of the data the length of time to download the files from the remote location into the recovered (or a spare) computer can be in hours not minutes.
For this reason in many cases where cloud backup is deployed an intermediate step is to store the backup file locally on another device and then stream those files to the cloud for offsite security. Unless there is a total shut down then you can use the local copy of the files for reload which will be faster than downloading from the offsite store. This type of solution can help automate the process while responding to the time for reload challenges. Usually the initial upload to these types of systems will be done using a transfer file after a backup has been run so that the initial upload does not bog down the whole system.
Applicances and hybrid solutions
There are further enhancements for these solutions where specialized backup appliances are deployed locally to house the onsite backup files and to manage the streaming of files to a cloud based offsite location. These can be coupled with Virtual Machine (VM) setups where a virtual copy of your server system is stored in the offsite location, maintained with replicated copies of your files and ready to step in and run your office virtually, in the event your onsite hardware has a failure. Once the local equipment is repaired, you restore from the VM system and you are back in business. These systems go beyond conventional backup and migrate into the realm of business continuity planning. With this type of system you can build redundancy into your I.T. network at a cost that is manageable for most SMB businesses.
Understanding your tolerance for having your network and communication capabilities interrupted is an important part of planning your business strategy. Can your operation function safely without your primary network tools for a couple of days? How many hours without your email is tolerable to your business? Are you using VOIP for phones? How long can you function without phones?
All of these questions are important to planning your disaster plans. They are critical tools in business and you need to give them consideration just like you do for liability insurance, vehicle insurance, building insurance, etc. Backup and business continuity planning is just another form of insurance that can help you respond to untoward and often uncontrollable situations.
How good is your backup? Have you tested it yet this year? Are you taking files offsite? What about workstation backup?
Giving your backup a good look is a prudent thing to do and is not an onerous thing to improve.
Photo credit: By backup_festival (backup_festival) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons