Backup Computer vs. Backup To The Cloud?

Tue, 24/11/2015 - 09:16
Cloud Storage

“Life is like a computer - even if you take care of it, one day it will crash.” I recently spoke to a CIO of an SME transport company who had a few old Pentiums he used in his business to create lots of spreadsheets. These are now out of sight and out of mind. They’ve been converted to be used as storage for daily data backups. The machines sit there faithfully gathering dust and fingers crossed, will keep doing so for some time to come. If you have a single IT bone in your body you’ll realise that hardware fails. Unexpectedly.

Onsite backups

My CIO friend explained to me that before his tenure, their employees would manually copy their data to these computers at the end of every day. It’s a good thing that the hard drives were shared across a network. At least they didn’t need to physically transport the data on a removable drive or memory stick. This so-called backup system was clearly designed to save money. It favoured a simple option that made use of basic technology.
Unfortunately the system was so basic that it became its own undoing. This kind of onsite backup is subject to stumbles and coffee spills. Not only does data get stored but also accumulates dust and cockroach families. Not to mention any Tom, Dick or Harry that could abscond with the computer equipment in hand.
Numerous organisations follow similar practice. After being lulled into a false sense of security and with employees being less diligent in doing their backups, a day will arrive when data will be lost with no means of recovery. Tears will run and heads will roll. This happened to my CIO friend…

Backup computer

That’s when he got some expert advice from an IT wiz who pointed out, as those IT managers worth their weight in gold would do, that the “old Pentium” solution was not ideal. He installed an improved on-site backup system. Nowadays a complete backup system is packaged with a hardware appliance ready to plug and play. Companies like Symantec, Attix5, STORServer and Dell all offer competing options. However, some critical factors should be considered before choosing a solution:

  1. Does the appliance offer virtualisation? With this comes scalability and therefore increased storage space.
  2. Since storage is always an issue, does it feature deduplication? It is fast becoming an industry standard that the same file should only be stored once – so as to use the minimum amount of disk space.
  3. What software is provided and at what cost? Ideally, the cost of such an appliance should include a full suite of software capable of managing and performing backups and restores.
  4. Will it sync to the cloud? Some companies require a second off-site copy of the backed up files. A cloud service could easily be used for this and you might need an appliance that offers the syncing capability.

Another friend of mine, a QS at a large development organisation, told me that in spite of being fully aware of the risks pertaining to data recovery and backups, their IT department never implemented any form of disaster recovery plan. Inevitably, disaster struck: A relatively simple yet essential exchange server fell victim to hardware failure. All data was lost and critical business functions ceased for a whole week!

Cloud backup

Considering what the Internet has given us, cloud environments are currently growing at a massive rate. Virtual machines grouped together based on single or multiple physical machines lends itself to a plethora of benefits. In a shared cloud environment your service provider takes care of the security and virus protection of data. The best thing about backing up to the cloud is that data is remotely and globally accessible and is ideally suited to effective disaster recovery.
As far as benefits go, cost is not yet one of them. Some businesses might consider using a free cloud storage service like Google Drive or DropBox as some cloud storage providers charge you an arm and a leg. It boils down to paying nothing but risking the fact that your sensitive information could be disclosed to governments should they be asked to do so vs. finding an affordable paid solution which offers flexibility and security. Cloud services are becoming more intricate as the service provider starts customising the service and costing thereof.
Obviously, since cloud hardware would typically not belong to your business, you would be restricted in how much of it you can afford. Even an average sized business generates lots of new files daily so the capacity fills up quickly. A private cloud is also becoming an attractive option where hardware costs become a competing factor.

Hybrid onsite/cloud backup

Using a combination of an on-site backup computer/appliance and a cloud storage service, an effective disaster recovery solution is realised. Backups performed on a regular and scheduled basis which is synchronised or mirrored to the cloud reduce the Recovery Time Objective (RTO) of your business continuity.
It also lowers the Recovery Point Objective (RPO) due to the off-site and instantly accessible nature of the storage. An effective disaster recovery plan aims to reduce the time between when the data loss occurred till when data has been recovered and services have been restored. Most companies think about data recovery when it’s too late. So consider your options and don’t get caught unawares. Ask the experts, research their advice. It might just save your business.

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