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Deciding on a Backup Strategy – Three Key Questions

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backup strategyDeciding on a backup strategy is not simple or easy – contrary to what online backup websites would have you believe. It takes careful consideration; what to backup and to where, how long to keep it, how quickly can I get it back if I need to, can I restore my entire business in the event of catastrophe… The list goes on. So what to do? Well, there are three key questions that, once answered should pave the way for the rest of your strategy:

  • What is your tolerance to downtime: Can you last an hour? A day? A week?
  • What is your tolerance to lost data: Can you stomach an hour? A day? A week?
  • What is your budget? Do I have the funding I need to do it right? Will I need to make compromises?

Answering these three questions – by far and away the most important questions of all – will set you on the track to choosing your technology and determining your budget. So let’s look at a some typical scenarios.

Scenario 1: You are a the small “S” in “SMB”. You have less than 10 employees and although downtime hurts you too, you are less likely to go under as a result of it. Your budget is limited and speaking of budgets, you aren’t even really sure what it should cost or how much to allocate.

  • “Our business is thrifty. It hurts when we are down but as long as I can be up and running again in a few days, we’ll survive.”
  • “Most of our transactions with our customers are backed up by paper so worst case scenario, if I lost a couple of weeks’ worth of data, I could key it back in – it would hurt us, but it wouldn’t kill us.

Scenario 2: Suppose you are a typical firm of around 25 users, a couple of servers and a fairly high reliance on systems availability (sound like you?) and you have a budget that can tolerate expenditures that you can justify. The likely answers to questions 1 and 2 will be:

  • “I hate being down – period. But I also understand that unless I have crazy amounts of cash, it may happen from time to time. Realistically, after a day, two at the absolute outside, our business is in serious crisis.”
  • “Losing data is a total drag and I would love to be able to completely avoid it. Having said that, we are able to track a lot of our transactions through our vendors so if I lose a day or two, it hurts but I can live through it. If I lose a week, it will take a long time to recover though and maybe it even kills us.”

Scenario 3: You are a busy services firm (legal, financial, etc.) and downtime is simply not an option. Nor is lost data. Your budget is drawn up in advance and you have allocated sufficient funds to ensure this does not happen

  • “We simply cannot be down – ever. No ifs, ands or buts about it. We lose over $20k an hour in downtime and worse than that, our customers simply will not tolerate it.”
  • “We cannot lose data. If we lose more than 1 or 2 hours’ worth, we go under. If not from lost customers and revenue, then from the inevitable lawsuits and damage to our reputation.”

In terms of solutions, there are many available – from backing up to portable USB drives (not my first choice irrespective of budget), to tape backup, to disk based backup (with or without an offsite feature), to the ability to “spin up” your servers in the cloud – there is a backup strategy that should fit your needs and budgets.

backup strategyContrary to popular belief, tape backup is still very viable. It is reliable, reasonably fast (albeit sluggish when doing file level restores) and is still one of the cheapest ways to go. Tapes are portable, inexpensive and as long as you don’t leave them on the dashboard of your car in July, very reliable. I would highly recommend a tape solution for Scenario 1 as that particular business has a limited budget, they are not too concerned with downtime, and when managed properly, this solution has a relatively low risk for lost data. The key here is properly monitor your backups; not unlike any scenario, really. I wouldn’t use USB drives though – very slow and less reliable than tape for sure.

backup strategyDisk based backups are all the rage these days and for good reason. Very little management overhead (no tapes to swap), very fast restores (especially file level restores; tape will best it though for very large restores), and a low cost of entry. The downside with disk based backups is the lack of portability which means you need to match it up with an offsite strategy and this is where it starts to get more costly than tape. Offsite storage is not as cheap as it looks especially if you want to have multiple versions of files or you plan to archive (think compliance) for long periods of time. And if you fall into Scenario 2, where lost data and extended downtime really start to sting, then you can probably justify the extra cost.

backup strategyBut if you are in Scenario 3, you have precious little risk aversion. You need uptime and you need guaranteed data accessibility. If you think are in this bucket, not only do you need a disk based backup strategy, but you need to be able to recover lost server – even lost sites – fast! Your solution calls for onsite disk based backup with replication to the cloud and the ability to host your servers in the cloud if you lose your entire site. You can do all of these things – it will cost you but you have budgeted for it and can justify the additional expense.

And you know, we have not touched on the complex part: actual backup strategies. What to backup, how often, how many versions, etc. Therein lies the complexity but hopefully your outsourced IT managed services outfit will take care of that for you. If they don’t, well… you probably have a bigger issue.

At Syncronet, we understand backups and all their inherent complexities and the fact that there is no “one size fits all” solution. If you are worried about your backups, maybe it’s time to rethink your strategy and give us a call.