Tuesday Take-Away: Think in These Terms About Backup

In last week’s Tuesday Take-Away, I wrote about understanding requirements before thinking technology when it comes to backup, restore, and recovery.  The number of emails and questions I received was rewarding.  So, I thought I would take this time this week to define some terms and answer questions that I received in response to last week’s post.

Retention Period versus Retention Point

The Retention Period is the time period during which data is available to restore or recover.  A Retention Point is a point in time from which you can select to recover or restore your data.  Some backup solutions limit the retention period; others limit the number of retention points.  Be sure you understand how long data will stay in your backups if it deleted by a user.

Better solutions give you the ability to set both the retention period and the number of retention points for each backup set you create.  Great solutions offer Continuous Data Protection, where the system backs up files every time they change.

Off-Site versus Online Backups

Off-Site Backups are those in which the data is kept off-site.  While in some cases, off-site backups run between a company’s locations and data centers, off-site backups include backups to hosting companies and cloud-based providers.   In many cases, off-site backups provide for a local backup to disk that is then copied to an off-site location.  For some off-site services, the on-site backup history is complete, the off-site backup history is limited and intended for recovery more than restore.

Online Backups are those in which the data is backed up to an online service.  Better online backup services offer local backup copy options.   Online backup services will keep your full backup history in a vault; the local backup copy can be a limited set or a full set.

Online versus Disk-Based versus Vault Recovery

While every off-site and online backup solution gives you the ability to restore over the Internet, methods for recovery differ.

As the name implies, Online Recovery is over the Internet.  You restore your system to the point that you can start recovering files from you backup.  This is easy and reliable, but will be painfully slow.  Online recovery times are limited by your Internet bandwidth.

Disk-Based Recovery is when you recovery your files from a local or temporary disk drive.  Many off-site and online backup solutions will place your files on a DVD or a USB drive and ship it to you.  For some services, however, you need to send them the media first, adding to your RTO time.  Other services perform the restore, so your data is no longer encrypted when they send it to you.

A Vault-Based Recovery occurs when your online or off-site backup service ships you a complete vault — a computer with your encrypted data and the vault control software.  The backup software recognizes that the vault is now local and recovers your data securely at local network speeds.  Once on-site, recovering data from a vault is the fastest options, as data transfer rates are much greater than via the Internet or slower media such as DVDs and USB drives.

If you have more questions or comments about the in’s and out’s of backup solutions, please comment below or send me a message.

Next week, I’ll answer the question: “Is VDR a Cure?”

Happy Belated Birthday, World Wide Web!

Sometimes, extraordinary events seem to become commonplace and get lost in the shuffle of our busy lives.

On Saturday, August 6th, the World Wide Web celebrated its 20th birthday.  Since you may have missed this, let us wish the Web a Happy Birthday!

Take a look at your computers, your phones, your music players, and your TVs; it is not difficult to see the impact the “Web” has had on society and our individual lives.

Tech news site CNET.com offers a brief history lesson and celebratory slide show.

Cumulus Global Launches Google Apps for Franchises

Delivers Integrated Email and Collaboration Services to
Franchisers and Their Franchisees

WESTBOROUGH, MA – August 08, 2011 – Cumulus Global is pleased to announce the launch of Google Apps for Franchises, an integrated product and service packages designed to improve communication and collaboration between franchisers and their franchisees.  With Google Apps for Business at its core, Google Apps for Franchises gives franchisers control over their domain and their brand while providing Franchisees with best-in-class email, communication, and collaboration tools.

“Google Apps for Franchises goes beyond providing domain-branded email service to Franchisees,” stated Allen Falcon, CEO of Cumulus Global.  “The package gives franchisers the ability to move documents and training materials out of the 3-ring binder and into secure portals, without having to buy and build an expensive infrastructure.”

Google Apps for Franchises includes creation of a secure franchisee portal that may be used to share documents, create on-online policy and procedure models, deliver training videos, and post announcements.  Using Google Docs and Google Sites, franchisers can setup systems for improved reporting and rolling up numbers.  The package also includes Cumulus Global’s Premium Support offering, including tier 2 end user support.

“We understand that franchisers have unique business issues when providing services to franchisees,” notes Falcon.  “Franchisers, for example, can direct us to invoice them centrally or invoice each franchisee.”

Franchisers interested in Google Apps for Franchises can get more information at Cumulus Global’s website directly or through the Google Apps Marketplace.

About Cumulus Global
Cumulus Global, formerly Horizon Info Services, helps small and mid-size businesses, non-profits, governments, and educational institutions thrive by delivering cloud computing solutions.  Serving clients from 1 to more than 1000 employees across numerous industries, we align technology with our clients’ goals, objectives, and bottom lines. We leverage our expertise, vendor relationships, and a diversified range of best-of-breed cloud services to create custom solutions with tangible value.

Google Apps for Franchises is the first in a series of industry specific cloud computing solutions from Cumulus Global.

Friday Thought: 3 More Reasons Google Apps is Secure

In addition to SAS 70 Type II Certification, here are 3 more reasons Google Apps is secure.

  1. Custom Operating System. Google Apps runs on a custom version of the LINUX operating system (OS).  Services and ports that are not needed, a common entry point for hackers, are not simply disabled, they have been removed.  As important, hackers cannot buy a copy of Google’s custom OS and use it to find vulnerabilities.
  2. Data is Unreadable, at least by humans.  When you save data in Google Apps, it is broken into little pieces that are each saved in different servers across multiple data centers.  Each piece is then obfuscated using encryption and other methods.  Even if somebody was able to break in, or a Google employee gained access to your data, they would first need to find all of the pieces and then figure out how to decrypt each piece. In comparison, your MS Exchange administrator can read every email in the system.
  3. Google is the second largest target for Hackers. Only the US Department of Defense has more attacks by hackers.  Google, therefore, has built an extremely robust defense against hackers.  With a security team of thousands on the job, led by some of the foremost security experts in the world, Google has built protection from hackers that greatly exceeds what most businesses can technically do, or even afford to do.

Does this mean your data is perfectly secure?  No!  Security can never be perfect.  It does mean that your chances of losing data in Google Apps is negligible when compared to most businesses’ network security and the actions of their employees (sharing passwords, stolen laptops, lost USB drives, and so on…..).

Cumulus Global CEO discusses economic impact with CRN

As reported by Computer Reseller News (CRN),

The stock market has dropped precipitously the last two weeks, but several solution providers said they’re not worried about a substantial economic relapse impacting their businesses. At least not yet.

Click here to see what Allen Falcon, our CEO, and other resellers have to say.

Tuesday Take-Away: Your Backup System is (sort of) Irrelevant

As you may know, I participate in several on-line IT discussion forums.  Every few weeks, a new member will post a question like “I have an xyz server, what should I use for backups?”.  Seemingly helpful forum members quickly jump in and start throwing out vendor names, do-it-yourself solutions, discussions about NAS versus SAN and disk-to-disk versus disk-to-tape, and so on.

It makes me want to SCREAM?  Why?  Because …

What you use for backup is irrelevant unless you know what you are backing up, why, and how quickly you need to restore!

Said another way, before you pick ANY backup solution, you should know:

  • What you need to restore
  • Why you expect you will need to restore or recover it
  • How quickly you will need to restore or recover it

Note that the answers you provide may vary for the different types of data.  For example, you may be able to live without your accounting system for two days, so long as you can ship orders within 4 hours.   You may need current project files immediately, but could wait a week for projects completed more than a year ago.

Understanding your “Why”

When considering why you might need to restore or recovery information or systems, think of the full spectrum of activities that can go wrong.  As an informal set of definitions:

  • Restore operations are usually performed on individual files or small sets of data, often resulting from accidental overwrites, deletions, or component (disk) failures.
  • Recovery operations are usually geared for large data loss, such as a drive array failure or server loss due to a disaster.

The key difference, restore operations bring back select data from a specific point in time while recovery operations bring back entire systems or data environments.

For example, you might restore email messages accidentally deleted from a user’s account on an MS Exchange server.  If the disk array dies, however, you would need to recover the entire mailbox store for the server.

Backup/Recovery protects you from disaster; Backup/Restore protects you from component failures and user errors (or intentional misconduct).

How you backup for recovery will often differ than how you backup for  restore.

Backup solutions that efficiently restore data, are not optimized for recovery.  Most backup solutions designed for fast recovery, such as image snapshots, lack the ability to restore individual elements.  For the Exchange server, above, we would recommend running two backups — one designed for recovery and one for individual mailbox and message restores.

Additionally, backups for restore generally give you more retention points than backups for recovery.  Being able to select a specific time or version of data is a key feature for backup/restore solutions.

Understanding you “How Quickly”

How quickly you need your data depends on the data and your business.  Keep in mind that you do not need all of your data all at once.  Generally speaking, however, when you need to restore an active file or two, you want to be able to do this quickly.  While you want quick recovery as well, you are more likely to be bound by factors beyond your backup/recovery solution, such as purchasing new hardware or moving to temporary office space.

Focus first on how quickly you need to Return To Operations.  Your RTO will drive your selection and investment in backup/recovery solutions.  Once you have your RTO, identity the critical data and systems you need to get your business up and running.  Your RTO will be shorter than your window for full recovery, and includes only the critical subset you need to get up and running.

The shorter your RTO, the more expensive the solution.  A realistic RTO will prevent you from over-buying.

First Steps First

By first understanding your requirements — the what, why, and how fast — of your restore and recovery needs, you can select backup solutions that accurately match your needs and effectively protect your data and your business.  By defining your needs, your solution will be relevant and your investment well-made.


What Might Your Browser Say About Your Intelligence?

In an online poll of over 100,000 people, AptiQuant, a Canadian firm that provides online employment assessments found a relationship between IQ and browser choice.  In the report, AptiQuant finds that individuals with lower IQ scores are more likely to use Internet Explorer than other browsers, such as Google Chrome, Firefox, and Safari.

The authors of the study note that “Although observational findings linking resistance to change/upgrade software to scores on cognitive tests maybe distorted by a lot of factors, it has been suggested that individuals on the lower end of the IQ scale tend to keep using outdated versions of antique web browsers.”  They extend this observation to their hypothesis:

“Because cognitive scores are related to tech savviness, we hypothesized that choice of web browser is related to cognitive ability of an individual.”

What the study found is that:

  • A significant number of individuals with a low score on the cognitive test were found to be using Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) versions 6.0 to 9.0.
  • There was no significant difference in the IQ scores between individuals using Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and Apple’s Safari; however, it was on an average higher than IE users.
  • Individuals using Opera, Camino and IE with Chrome Frame scored a little higher on an average than others.

From this, the study concludes that “… the IQ score and the choice of web browser are related.”

While interesting, the study does not establish browser choice as an indicator of IQ.  Rather, it does seem to support the general notion that intelligence relates to willingness to change and adopt new tools (in this case, software).

And, before you tease your IE-using friends, remember that this survey was far from scientific, with self-selecting users who responded to web advertisements for a free IQ test.