Data Backup: Weighing Your Options

Back in September we took the first steps in developing a data backup plan.  We identified the data to be backed up, prioritized the recovery of the backed up data in case of a data loss event and created a retention policy.  Now we need to decide what we should backup to.

With regards to the ideal storage media one underlying theme to keep in mind is redundancy.  Ideally you have one local copy of your critical data and at least one copy stored offsite in case of local backup hardware or media failure, theft or damage.  This can be accomplished in a variety of ways each with their own pros and cons.

Backup up to local storage that is physically rotated offsite
  • The traditional method of backing up to tape or external drives and rotating media offsite has been a pillar of SMB backups for years.  Normally someone is charged with rotating the backup media every day or week.  The individual will bring in the prior backup media and swap it with the completed current backup media.  They will then take the current media offsite until the next scheduled swap.
    • The Pros to this setup are:
      • This is a very inexpensive method of insuring redundancy, you have a local and offsite copy of your data.
    • The Cons to this setup are:
      • Having data offsite in an unencrypted state or in an unsecured location may violate federal or client mandated compliance requirements.
      • This method is completely reliant on human intervention.
      • During transport/storage the media is prone to damage and possibly theft.  Once the media leaves your facility you are unable to protect it.
      • There is an unavoidable delay in accessing your backed up data when it is stored on offsite physical media.  We have had experience with needing the offsite backups being held at an employee’s home and the employee is on vacation.  In one instance a client was forced to wait a full week until the employee returned from vacation to recover the necessary files.
Backup to a cloud based service
  • Cloud based backup services have become popular for home and small business users over the past few years.  The obvious drawback of not having a local backup can be overcome by having a separate local backup performed each evening.
    • The Pros to this setup are:
      • As with the option above this technically covers you for insuring redundancy.  You will have a local backup and a separate cloud based backup of your data.
      • The cloud based services are typically inexpensive.
    • The Cons to this setup are:
      • You are now monitoring and managing two separate backup processes. This means regularly updating and testing two different backups to insure the backups are working properly.
      • In the event of a local backup failure recovering large volumes of data from your cloud based service can take weeks.
      • With some cloud based services there are fees associated with restoring data from your cloud backups.  Be sure to research ALL of the costs associated with protecting your data.
Backup to a hybrid backup solution
  • Most managed service providers will offer a managed backup solution that offers local backup with automatic cloud replication.
    • The Pros associated with this backup solution are:
      • Your goal of redundancy has been achieved!  You have a local backup and your data is replicated offsite.  In many instances it will be replicated offsite to multiple cloud locations.
      • You have one backup process to monitor and manage.
      • In the event of a catastrophic data loss and a local backup failure the data can be restored from the cloud.  In the event there is large amounts of data to be restored most managed backup solutions providers will have the data restored to a backup appliance at the cloud storage site and have the appliance overnighted.
      • The cloud storage facilities are certified to meet most compliance requirements.
    • The Cons associated with this solution:
      • Of the three options discussed this tends to be pricier then the other two options.

As I tell all of our clients anything is possible – if you have an unlimited budget. So it is important to develop your backup strategy and consider:

  • What do we need to backup?
  • What are our security requirements?
  • How quickly do we need to be able to restore it?
  • How much can we spend?

Answering these questions will help you to determine which is the best option for your with regards to your backups.

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