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Calm Before the Storm: 3 Models for Protecting Your Business

Hurricane
What began as a mild tropical storm season has suddenly become quite active, with multiple significant storms expected to impact the southeast and Atlantic coast and the Hawaiian islands. And while every storm may not be a major hurricane, your business is at risk because our infrastructure is at risk.

Power outages, local or regional flooding, and disruption of communication services continue to increase in frequency as our infrastructure ages faster than our upgrades and as our economy rewards utilities for trimming staff and services rather than trimming trees and keeping current with maintenance.

Are you protecting your business from the damage and risk of disruption?

You have seemingly infinite choices on the types and cost of protection, each with benefits and limitations. Your challenge: pick the solution that is most cost-effective, meaning the time it takes to Return to Operations (RTO) is acceptable given the cost.

To simplify your search for a solution, we propose you consider one of three models:

  • Restoration
  • Recovery
  • Continuity

Restoration

Restoration is the least expensive option.  You backup all of your data and critical systems, including full system images, off-site.  In the event of a disaster, you restore your systems once you have fixed or replaced any damaged or lost equipment.

  • Cost Structure:
    • Scales with the size of your system images and the amount of data you keep in offsite backup
  • RTO:
    • 1 to 3 days once replacement equipment arrives
  • Admin:
    • Must ensure backups include all images and data needed to recovery, including Bare Metal Restore (BMR) for key servers and systems.
    • Must periodically test restore for data integrity and to ensure the recovery process is documented and understood.

Recovery

In addition to keeping an off-site or cloud backup covering all of your data and critical systems, you have the ability to access replicas of your network and servers in a remote data center.  In the event of a disaster, you “spin up” your latest system snapshots and restore any incremental data. You access your mirror network via remote desktop, VPN client, or LAN-to-LAN VPN.

  • Cost Structure:
    • Scales with the size of your system images and the amount of data you keep in offsite backup
  • RTO:
    • 1 to 18 hours, depending on your configuration and needs.
  • Admin:
    • Must ensure backups include all images and data needed to recovery, including Bare Metal Restore (BMR) for key servers and systems.
    • Must periodically test recovery for data integrity and to ensure the recovery process is documented and understood.
    • Once primary systems are repaired or replaced, snapshot backups and recovery move your data back for normal operations.

Continuity

Continuity means your IT infrastructure keeps running, even in the face of disaster or significant local events.  You have multiple options for continuity, including: mirrored networks and systems in remote data centers, remote desktops, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), and Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) models. In each scenario, your servers, applications, and data live in a redundant, remote cloud data center. You access your environment via remote connection, using a web browser or a small local app known as a receiver.  In the event of an emergency, you only need to provide a browser and Internet connection to be up and running.

  • Cost Structure:
    • Scales with the size of your systems and networks
    • Offsets day to day costs of owning and managing on-premise hardware and software
  • RTO:
    • Immediate, based on Internet availability
  • Admin:
    • Providers typically include standard server admin and management, reducing local need for IT resources
    • Application and data management are similar to on-premise systems
    • Backup/restore capabilities are still recommended to protect against application and/or human error.

Using these models as a guide, you can select a solution that balances cost, convenience, and complexity against the operational needs of your business.


Want to setup or improve your disaster recovery/business continuity capabilities? Contact us for a free, no-obligation consultation.


 

Changing the Focus on Backup Protection

Recovery-Point-Objective-RPO
As we’ve stated before, “Backup is easy; Recovery is hard”.  Every business should, at this point, understand the risks of poor data backup and protection. The risks come from the types and amount of data that is lost and, if it can be recovered, how long that recovery takes. And remember, recovery often takes more effort than simply restoring files from a backup set.

Perspective = Priority

When looking at how well your backup system is protecting your business, two factors should be top of mind:

RTO: Recovery Time Objectives — How long will it take to return to normal operations. RTO is not just the time it takes to load your data back onto your systems, RTO includes the time it takes to repair and recreate damaged information and data created or modified since the last backup.

RPO: Restore Point Objectives — Your RPO determines how much data you are willing to lose, or can afford to lose. Most small and mid-size businesses backup daily. On average, a system failure will result in half a day of lost data. For an office worker editing a report, this is traumatic and inconvenient. For a manufacturer or retail business, half a day can represent hundreds or even thousands of orders and financial transactions.

As always, quicker RTOs and smaller RPOs come with trade-offs.  Recovery methods like image snapshots, for example, can provide rapid RTOs and small RPOs. In exchange, you are likely losing granularity — the ability to recovery individual files.

Understand the reasons  you are protecting your data.  Protection from system failure, in which you need to recovery a full server, lends itself to imaging and other snapshot methods.  Recovery of files or data lost to program error, malware, or user activity, needs a solution with granularity.

Start with an understanding of the type of protection you need and your RPOs and RTOs.  From there, you can pick the solutions (yes, you may want or need more than one method) for recovering data and your business.


We offer  a range data protection solutions, with a range of products, for on-premise and cloud-based data. Contact us for a free assessment of which type of solution is best for you.


 

 

Picking a Backup Solution is Missing the Point!

Data Protection
A 2013 study by The 2112 Group titled “”2013 State of Cloud Backup” found that small and mid-size interest in robust backup solutions more than triples after a significant data loss event, only 54% of SMBs felt that improved data recovery, business continuity, and IT reliability were sufficient motivators to deploy a new or improved solution.

Our perspective, is that focusing on backup misses the point entirely!

As we have blogged in the past: backup is easy; recovery is hard.  More accurately, the ability to recover and restore defines the value proposition.  Everything else about “backup” solutions — including the technology and methods — is irrelevant until you define the value of recovery and restore.

Stop thinking about Backup!  Instead, think about:

Continuity:  The ability for you company to continue to operate at an appropriately effective level during events that disrupt normal operations.   For some businesses, this means zero downtime.  For others, answering the phones and access to email may be sufficient for hours or days, or as an interim state until line of business systems come back online.  Still other businesses may need all systems up and running with 1 or 2 business days.

Recovery:  The ability to gain access to data and systems that became unavailable due to damage or failures.  Whether your disk array fails, a pipe bursts above your servers, or a virus eats through your files, recovery requires repair or replacement before systems and data can be restored.

Restore:  The ability to retrieve a prior version of data or a system.  Most restores are a result of user action or minor system issues.  How far back you need to go and the availability of past versions defines how long it will take to both retrieve the information and for the user to replace lost work, if any.  For some, a daily version meets the need.  For others, going back a day means resource-consuming rework so multiple versions each day are appropriate.

Focus on a building a Data Protection Solution and your required “Return to Operation” (RTO) time.  Remember that different parts of your business, different systems, may have different RTO requirements.

  • Assess your continuity, recovery, and restore needs and priorities
  • Understand the likely and not-so-likely risks to your systems and your business and create a “use case”.
  • Looking at each use case:
    • Identify changes to your IT infrastructure that could mitigate risk
    • Identify the type of solution that can provide the needed continuity, recovery, and restore services
  • Collate the use cases and solution types as your requirements

With requirements in hand, evaluating data protection solutions, technologies, and services becomes a manageable process.  Keep in mind, the data protection solution may include a mix of backup/restore, backup/recovery, archiving, disaster recovery, and other components.

 

Backing up Google Apps: A Smart Idea or a Needed Service?

As companies move their systems and data from on-premise servers into cloud computing solutions, companies maintain control of their data.  Control over the systems that house the data, however, belongs to the cloud provider.  The same is true for businesses moving to Google Apps.

When businesses move to Google Apps, they are trusting Google’s fault-tolerant, grid-based architecture to run with any disruptions due to hardware or software failures.  But a reliable system cannot prevent all forms of data loss.

  • 75% of incidents involving sensitive data lossare caused by human error, according to the IT Policy Compliance Group, as reported in PC World.
  • 32% of data loss is due to user error, according to Gartner surveys, cited by the SANS Institute.
  • 70% of companies go out of business after a major data loss, according to DTI as cited by the SANS Institute.

While Google protects you from data loss due to system failure, Google cannot protect you from data loss due to user error (or malicious act).

Nor can Google protect you from data loss or corruption caused by third party applications. These applications pose new and different risks as these application range from integrated applications installed through the Google Apps cPanel to tablet and smart phone apps users may install themselves on personal devices.  In the emerging world of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), monitoring and managing third party applications is a challenge.

Given the risks, backing up your data in Google Apps seems smart, but is it necessary and worth the expense?

If information is lost or damaged, the cost can be staggering.  Lost contract amendments may prevent a business from getting paid in full; Missing emails can create customer service nightmares;  Corrupt data can cause employees and customers to lose confidence in your business.

And beyond tangible losses, the cost of recovery adds up quickly.  Losing a day’s worth of work costs more than the lost day.  Recovery takes time and resources and disrupt your normal business activities.  A loss of one day of work that takes one day to recovery, actually costs your business 3 to 5 days of lost productivity.

In comparison, protecting your data in Google Apps from user error and third party applications costs between $3 and $8 per user per month.  Given the value of your data, the cost and impact of lost data, and the cost of recovery, backing up your data in Google Apps is an affordable insurance policy.

Affordable protection for your data is a service you should want and probably need.

Tuesday Take-Away: Is VDR a Cure?

In the first two posts in our Backup series, we covered the difference between “restore” and “recovery” and some key terms to know when considering your requirements and solutions.  In this week’s Take-Away, we look at VDR, or Virtual Disaster Recovery, as a possible cure for your recovery ailments.

Virtual DR is a service that leverages virtualization technology and online backup services to provide your organization with an affordable path for a speedy Return to Operations (RTO) in the event of a disaster.

How Virtual DR Works:

With Virtual DR, the backup process creates complete images of your servers — operating system, drivers, software, and data — and maintains the image on a server in a secure data center.  The process updates the image regularly and when changes are made to each server, including regular patches and updates.

In parallel, you continue to use online backup services to ensure current data is available for restores and to ensure the most current data is available for recovery.

In an emergency, your server images are activated to run on servers in the secure data center.  You connect your business to the servers, from your current location or an alternate location, via a secure Virtual Private Network (VPN).  Once running, the most recent data set is restored from the data backups.

In most cases, businesses using Virtual DR have a RTO of under 4 hours.

What Does Virtual DR Cost?

What makes Virtual DR affordable is that server image backup and storage is very inexpensive.  You only pay for operational services when you declare an emergency.  As such, Virtual DR is an incremental cost over online backup services.

When looking at Virtual DR solutions expect the following components and fees:

  • One-Time Fees
    • Setup and Configuration
    • Software agents for Exchange, SQL Server, and other specialized systems and applications
    • Initial Validation Testing
  • Recurring Fees
    • Backup and storage of service images
  • As-Needed Fees
    • Emergency declaration and server run-time
    • Additional bandwidth

Considerations

Better  VDR services provide a fixed fee for an emergency declaration and base level of run time.  For example, the VENYU Virtual DR services we offer include the emergency declaration and 30 days of run time for a single, small fee.

Additionally, the VDR service should include periodic validation tests as part of the recurring monthly cost of the service.  Annual tests are good, semi-annual tests are better.  And, you should have the option of adding and paying for additional tests when warranted, such as after major changes to your IT environment.

Finally, check with your insurance provider.  Most policies that include business recovery coverage will pay for the emergency declaration, run time, and bandwidth in the event of a disaster.  Having Virtual DR in place may also lower your premiums.

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?”


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.

 

Iron Mountain Customers Stranded in the Wild?

In an interesting turn of events, Iron Mountain announced it was getting out of the digital records management business.  Selling its business lines to Autonomy, a European technology services firm, Iron Mountain returns to its roots as an efficient off-site records management firm.

Never profitable for the company, Iron Mountain Digital, always seemed like a sideline business for the firm.  While those working in the unit were dedicated professionals, their pricing, offerings, and technology did not always stand up well to the competition.  And, the company was never able to convey an integrated approach to hard copy and electronic records management.

The sales leaves current Iron Mountain customers somewhat stranded.  While Autonomy will no doubt continue operations for a period of time, one must expect that at some point in the future customers will be asked, encouraged, or forced to migrate over to Autonomy’s systems and solutions.   Also unclear is what will happen to local support.

Fortunately, customers can take the initiative and explore their options.   With minimal overlap of services, customers can migrate to other online backup solutions that offer more features at a lower cost.

Companies interested in learning more can click here for a no-obligation assessment of their backup/recovery and archive requirements.