New Backup Technologies

by on 10/02/2010

Traditional backup technologies such as tape are being replaced by new backup mechanisms which offer significant advantages. These allow data to be saved in real-time so that you will never lose a document again, allow quick and easy retrieval of files and remote backup solutions also provide disaster recovery solutions.

This article will look at these new technologies in a non-technical way, evaluating the pros and cons and recommending an approach for SMEs that provides the benefits at little or no additional cost.

FITM partners with backup solution providers and specialises in the process of selection, justification and implementation of these solutions.

Introduction

Backups serve two primary purposes:

  • File restoration. The ability to restore a small number of files after they have been accidentally deleted or corrupted.
  • Disaster recovery. The ability to restore systems and data following a disaster.

With an estimated 60% of companies that lose their data going out of business within six months, it is vital that all companies big and small consider their backup needs and implement and test an appropriate backup strategy.

With the current trend to store data outside the company, “in the cloud”, it is also vital to consider how that data is being backed up by all service providers and how you would get hold of it should a disaster affect the provider, or were they to go out of business.

Backup Regime

Four business criteria can be used to define an appropriate backup regime:

  • Recovery point objective (RPO) – the point in time that you can restore back to. It may well be that it is acceptable to restore some systems or data as at last weekend. Other data may have a RPO of the previous night, the last hour, or even every time a change is made. This is relatively simple for a Word file, but needs careful consideration and is technically much more demanding with critical business applications.
  • Recovery time objective (RTO) – the time taken to restore data. If you needed to restore your data following a disaster would it be acceptable if that took a week, or do you need access to it in 24 or 48 hours?
  • Backup window. This is less important now, but it is still possible that certain systems can only be properly backed up when they are not online, generally at night, and the length of time that these systems are offline determines how long the backup has to run.
  • In addition, legal, regulatory and data-protection rules may necessitate additional backups and the ability to search backups for keywords etc.

All of these factors need to be considered when evaluating the cost-benefit of different backup solutions.

Types of Backup

There are two main types of backup, those where the data is stored locally and those where it is stored remotely.

Local backup is the traditional form of backup. Historically data has been backed up to tape, but local backup mechanisms now include optical disk, various types of solid state storage, and increasingly hard disks. The primary advantage of local backup is the speed of recovery, especially of large quantities of data. There are however many problems, especially in the management of backups. For example, in a standard hierarchically structured backup (see below) you might easily have twenty tapes. Tapes need to be taken out each day and other tapes inserted. Tapes wear out and so need regular testing and replacing. All this needs to be managed, someone needs to be responsible and someone else needs to be able to do it if the first person is absent. Some measure of disaster recovery is often provided by storing tapes offsite, but this only increases the complexity of the management task and negates the benefit of speed of restore if the tape that you need has to be retrieved.

The newer form of backup is remote or online backup, i.e. backing up via the Internet to a remote location. Vendors mostly offer this as Software as a Service (SaaS), i.e. the vendor manages the hardware and software for you and you just use the system on demand. Remote backup protects against disasters such as flood or fire that would destroy local backups and are secure, reliable and do not require user intervention. However, they do rely on your Internet connection, which may not be fast enough to transfer your data, especially if you change a lot of data on a daily basis, and the potential cost of increased bandwidth needs to be factored into the cost benefit justification.

Cost

Remote backup arguably offers a backup solution which is far more powerful and easy to manage. However, the key question is whether it costs more or less than traditional backup. This calculation is complex, as it has to take into account many factors: the cost of the time taken to manage traditional backups, the cost of a lengthy restore process, the value of a disaster recovery solution, the cost of tapes or other physical media over the long term, the cost of a potential increase in Internet bandwidth, the cost to an organisation if a backup is missed and key data is lost etc.

This cost comparison varies from company to company but in general there is a good case to be made that remote backup systems offer significant benefits at little or no additional cost even including the cost of the project to transfer to the new model.

Technical Considerations

A backup regime should provide:

  • A hierarchical structure. For example, a grandfather-father-son backup provides three sets of backups such as monthly, weekly and daily. The daily (son) backups are rotated on a daily basis with one graduating to weekly (father) status each week. The weekly backups are rotated on a weekly basis with one graduating to monthly (grandfather) each month.
  • Continuous or near real-time backup of changing data. For example, it should be possible to retrieve a copy of a spreadsheet as it was each time it was saved. This is known as Continuous Data Protection (CDP).
  • Backup of data on servers, but also on PCs and laptops if data is stored there. Backup of data on multiple sites.
  • Backup of data on multiple platforms such as Windows, Mac and Unix.
  • Full backups (not just data) which are stored off-site for business continuity use in case of disaster.
  • Specialist backup of databases (e.g. the Microsoft Exchange email store, Microsoft SQL, Oracle etc.).
  • Secure encryption of data so that it cannot be read if it falls into the wrong hands.
  • Regular test restores of full, data and database backups.
  • De-duplication and compression of data so that it takes up the minimum amount of bandwidth and storage space.
  • The ability to backup open files.

Regular testing should take place, validating that the backup regime is functioning correctly, and that systems and data can be restored correctly. If data is encrypted, it is important to test that de-encryption works successfully, i.e. not just that the restore completes, but that the data is readable and as expected.

Your backup system stores multiple copies of all data, and may well contain complete images of PCs and servers. So, data storage requirements can be considerable, as can bandwidth requirements for remote solutions. Both of these problems are solved in good modern backup solutions – the data transmitted over your Internet connection is first de-duplicated and compressed and only differential or changed data is sent.

Recommendation

FITM recommends the use of a remote backup solution, preferably one that also stores the most recent and most used data locally. A backup regime fulfilling the criteria given above should be created and regular testing should take place.

The selection and setup of such a system is a complex task which should not be underestimated. However, this is a one off cost, which will provide improved facilities, including disaster recovery provisions, and cost reduction in the medium to long term.

Can FITM Help?

FITM partners with remote backup providers who provide best of breed backup solutions. FITM also provides consultancy to help you select, justify, and setup your backup solution if required. Contact FITM if you would like to discuss your backup solution.

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