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A properly configured backup system and strategy is one of the most important components of your IT infrastructure. For you to be able to reliably make backups and restore files, databases and emails when needed, there are several key factors that need to be preset:
Infrastructure - a good backup system should consist of separate components, typically hardware and software, that provide for the network speed and the storage media. In the old days, businesses used to dedicate one PC with a built-in tape drive to function as the domain controller and file server and possibly some other functions as well. Nowadays, that is no longer constitutes a sounds backup infrastructure. Backup jobs, if timed and scheduled - as opposed to continuous - typically take many hours and are very resource intensive both on the server that performs the backup as well as the network. Therefore is is recommended that you have at a minimum a gigabit, switched backbone that allows for transfer of large quantities of files and intense network traffic, otherwise you will see a significant downgrade in performance every time the backup jobs kick in. Furthermore, burdening your critical servers, e.g. your domain controller or your email server or your SQL database server or even your web server with the task of running the backups is not advised as you might find the primary functions of that server unavailable. A good strategy would be to either dedicate a server to the task of running the backup jobs or to delegate it to a server with very low load burden or non-essential functions such as a backup domain controller.
Media & Platform - Basically, there are three schools of thought as to the media used for backing up: 1) Tape (standalone or tape library), 2) Online disk storage (to Network Attached Storage a.k.a. NAS, and Storage Area Networks a.k.a SAN), and 3) Online:
1) Tape - Despite being decades old, tape is still the most common method of backing up & long-term storage. Tape has the advantage that the media is relatively cheap and reliable for near term retrieval (1-2 years). Storing tapes for more that 2 years in not recommended since the media itself will begin to deteriorate and reliability will become a compromised. (same applies to RWCDR and RWDVD media in cluding Blue Ray)
2) Disk (online and near line storage): Disk is a the most promising recent new media in backup technology. It is fast, reliable and most importantly it can be configured to provide continuous backups, i.e. every time a file changes or is saved, an image is stored to the NAS or SAN or iSCSI device. Furthermore, file versioning can be integrated into the system so that you can retrieve previous versions of a file that was changed. Also advantageous is the relatively low cost of disk media. However one important aspect that disk-based backups do NOT provide is physical separation of media. If something were to happen to the storage drive, there is no fallback position and you cannot simply retrieve an old media - as you could with tape - and obtain at least partial restoration. It's an all or nothing proposition.
3) Online: A method that has become very popular in recent year is backing up to an online data warehouse service provider such as mozy.com. Although, when properly set up, online backups are quite useful, cautions should be taken. For example your backups and more importantly restores are as good as the company you select. If the service provider becomes defunct, you are not likely to be able to retrieve your data. Other things to considerations are: Does your upstream bandwidth allow for daily and continuous backups? How much data needs to be backed up? Does the software provided allow for unattended operation and and most importantly does the user need to be logged on to the server or workstation in order for the software to launch? Many providers such as iDrive and Carbonite require the user to be logged on, which means the software does NOT run as a Windows service, but as an executable instead, which means if you log off from the server when you walk away (absolutely necessary for security reasons) the software will not launch and no backups will occur. These products are designed and marketed for the individual user, not for the corporate or server farm environment.
Software - Most current backup software today is capable of scheduled routine backup of the files and databases, including SQL and Exchange to most media types, including tape, disk and removable media. Current dominators in this area,Symantec Backup Exec and Computer Associates Arcserve, are also capable of performing continuous backups to disk medium, however the proper "agent" may need to be installed on the target server. Novastor and EMC Retrospect also offer similar capabilities.
Rotation Mechanism and Strategy - Tape rotation, if you use tapes, is a reuired disciplline. Having an autoloader a.k.a. tape libarary makes things much simpler because an autoloader can hold anywhere from 4 to 40 or more tapes and mmakes it unnecessary to manually rotate the tapes, however it is still necessary to "pull" one or more tapes on a regular basis, typically weekly, and store them off-site to have a fall-back dataset in case of catastrophic failure of the network and data center. The rotation phylosophy applies equally well to disk-based backups and requires careful arrangement of backup sets. Typical backup schemes include the "grandfather, farther, son" technique and Monday thru Thursday + Friday1 thru Friday5 + month1 thru monthX strategies. the key factor to keep in mind is how many days/weeks/months worth of data would you be willing to lose in case of a catastrohpic failure, eathrquake, flood, theft, fire, etc.
One of the smartest way to design a backup strategy is to combine a disk-based and a tape-based or a disk-based and an on-line medium. You could capitalize on the strenghts of each medioum and devise your strategy accordingly.
Testing and monitoring - Any backup is as good as, or no better one could argue, that how reliably it can be resotred. There so many netowrk administrator who implement and manage a backup and not once do they bother to test to see if they can actually restore a file, an email or a SQL database. The halls of Data recovery companies is filled with stories of companies that lost dyas/weeks/thousands/millions ... (you fill in the blank) when they though they had a working backup, and one day when they actually lost a sever, hard drive or NAS, they realized they had no backup to begin with.
Physical vs. Data Security - How valuable would your backup be if the structure burned down or your equpment was stolen or destryed. How understanding would your customer be if you told them all your emails or your website or your dtabase with all the client trnsactions were lost? Not much, would they? An intelligent backup will always incorporate a fall-back plan to be able to recover if your primary servers, primary backup system or primary network infrastructure were to be lost or damaged. In its simplest form, this woudl entail "pulling" a tape and storing it off-site, alson with a tape drive and the software to be able to do a restore. After all, what good would a single tape do if you have no tape drive or software to read the contents?
In addition to physical "fault tolerance" you would be wise to also consider data security. Imagine a scenario where your data was partially corrupted, for whatever reqson, be it inadvertent deletion, programatic errors or even malicious intrusion. Now imagine you did not find out about the loss until a week later. Woudl it help to know that your backups only covered the past three days? Probably not.
Premises - Having your backup system (tape drive/library, tapes, software, servers, etc.) reside in the relative safety and stability of a data center is probably the most advised solution to
With Guardian Netwworks supporting your network, you can have the peace of mind that your backups are being conducted regularly and reliably and whenever the need arises to restore lost data - be it due to accidental deletion, data corruption or malicious attempts - you can be assured that your data is safe. For a detailed explanation of the the backup strategies we typically implement, give us a call or drop us an email.