Backup buyers guide

Backup used to be simple; you had a tape backup system, a set of three tapes in a safe, and another set down at the bank for off-site safety. The situation is now more complex with a wider choice of backup hardware and increased use of cloud and virtualisation technologies. You can no longer just back up data files on your local server and sit back, satisfied the job is done. These days you need to think about whether and how to back up virtual machines, and how your cloud-based systems should be backed up.

The ever-increasing amount of data makes the task more difficult, particularly for smaller companies who can’t justify the cost of a full backup system with its own servers and hardware, allowing you to backup all the data in full on a weekly basis, with daily incremental backups. Smaller companies need backup solutions that don’t clog the network and stop people working in normal business hours. Furthermore, backup is one area where third party software can still offer significant advantages over that provided with the operating system.

Virtual Machines

Many companies have added virtual servers to their network configuration, and this increases the complexity of backing up data. You need to be clear what virtual machines are present and which contain data that needs to be backed up. Backup solutions need to be aware of virtual machines that aren’t mounted at the time the backup is happening, and which data devices are associated with those machines.

Snapshot backup

Many companies use snapshots to back up their machines, and their virtual machines in particular. Taking a snapshot means you can restore the machine to its previous working state if something goes wrong. As the name suggests, a snapshots is a copy of the contents of a system disk at a specific date and time, and you can take multiple snapshots at different times to provide different restore points. Most versions of Windows, with the exception of Windows 8, come with a utility known variously as Shadow Copy, Volume Snapshot Service, or Volume Shadow Copy Service which can be used to take such snapshots.

Data in the cloud

Just because your data is cloud based doesn’t mean you can forget about backup. It’s true that many cloud providers also offer backup, but would your data be protected if your cloud provider’s data centre burnt down, or if the provider went into liquidation? If your company relies on being able to access that data, then you shouldn’t be relying on a single point of access.

The need to back up data that is stored in the cloud is one side of the picture; many companies are attracted by the possibility of using the cloud itself as a backup solution. However this isn’t as straightforward as it seems. You need to be sure that the company you choose will be around if and when you want to restore the data, and this is increasingly difficult to predict.

The real disadvantage of using the cloud is the relatively slow connection speed. This is annoying if you’re backing up important data, but even more frustrating if you actually need to download the data. Some cloud backup companies have resorted to copying a customer’s data onto disks and sending them out via courier. This is probably better than waiting days while you download terabytes of company data, but it isn’t really cloud computing as you imagined it.

If you’re attracted to the idea of using the cloud for backup, you need to work out whether you could wait while it’s recovered; cloud is fine for less time-important files, but if you need really speedy recovery for priority data, you need a different solution.

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