Frequently asked questions about backing up and recovering data Featured

9:44am EDT March 1, 2011
Frequently asked questions about backing up and recovering data

Computers crashing, a lost or stolen laptop or smart phone, a natural disaster, or just someone accidentally hitting the “delete” key — these are all ways a company can lose its data.

Studies show that 70 percent of businesses will experience or have experienced data loss. Disturbingly, 93 percent of businesses that have lost data for 10 days or more ended up filing for bankruptcy, and 50 percent of those companies filed for bankruptcy immediately.

“Without a backup solution in place, businesses are at the mercy of not having any data to recover,” says Don Beller, a senior manager with Skoda Minotti Technology Services.

Smart Business spoke with Beller about how to pick the right backup solution for you, and how to ensure your backup won’t let you down when you need it.

What are some steps companies can take to ensure they have a backup solution in place?

There are a multitude of backup solutions out there, including USB drives, CD-ROMs, tape drives, onsite appliances and even Internet-based backup solutions. There are many options and many price points for businesses, so companies need to determine what level they are at and how much they can afford to do. Whatever solution they decide to use, it has to be a complete solution. You don’t want to go with a less expensive solution that doesn’t give you a full system backup and allow you to fully recover.

What is the difference between a ‘complete’ solution and one that isn’t?

Today, there is a lot of buzz surrounding Internet-based backup solutions. Some of the less expensive solutions out there allow a user to back up data folders on their PC or server environment. They don’t necessarily back up the entire operating system of the server. So in the event of a disaster, you have all your data, but you still have to recover the environment to restore that data, too. Comparatively, a complete solution goes from the operating system level on up to all the data stored on that unit.

How does the backup process work?

With a tape drive or USB drive, you typically need more time to back up your data. It’s more of a file-by-file backup, so the system has to process all those files going to that tape, drive or unit. Other technologies are starting to use disk-to-disk imaging, which is more of a snapshot view of the system. Those are more robust backup systems, and they can use a quicker timeframe. Some imaging solutions can back up entire systems every 15 minutes throughout the day. That’s much faster than a tape drive backup, which could take hours to complete.

There are different methods of backing up as well. A lot of companies tend to lean toward doing a full backup every Friday night, letting it run over the weekend, then doing incremental backups throughout the week. Although that’s not a bad solution, it does lengthen the time of recovery. You get everything back, it’s just a longer process.

Some newer technology allows the appliance doing the backup to serve as a virtual server. With that, even if the hardware your original server resided on crashed, you can bring up a virtual environment on the backup appliance and get the company up and running while the original hardware is being repaired. This allows you to recover to more recent timestamps quicker.

What’s the cost difference between old technology and the new technology?

The cost has become pretty consistent. The old technology was tape drives, which are a volatile medium and susceptible to environmental conditions. Companies used to back up megabytes of data. Now we’re backing up gigabytes and terabytes of data. As our data needs grow, the tape drive costs increase as well. Now, the more expensive disk-to-disk technology is more in line with the added cost of tape drive. It makes sense to do disk-to-disk imaging.

How often should you back up your data?

It depends how comfortable you are with losing data. Can your company survive going backward one day? How about one week? With increasing amounts of data to be backed up, tape drives, USB drives and CD- or DVD-ROM drives are capable of backing up once a day. Essentially, you’re limited by the speed of the backup technology.

Disk-to-disk imaging technology allows more frequent backups during the day for a similar cost. So say it’s 3 p.m. and you’ve been working on a presentation all day. Somehow it gets deleted or corrupted. With the newer technology, you could go back to 2:45 p.m. and recover your data. With the older technology, you would have to go back to yesterday when the presentation didn’t even exist. You’ve lost a day’s worth of work.

How can companies be sure their data restoration will work?

Just create a test folder with mock data you could delete at random. Then periodically test that you could restore the mock data from whichever media you have backing up your system. I’d recommend testing backups at least monthly.

We had an experience where a company came to us with a box full of tapes. Their server crashed and they were looking for help. We got their system functional, but when we tried to restore their data, we discovered none of the 20 tapes they brought us were recoverable.

Backups are only as successful as they’re tested to be. If you don’t have a process in place to verify the information you’ve backed up is restorable, you might find yourself in a hard place where you can’t recover the data.

Don Beller is a senior manager with Skoda Minotti Technology Services. Reach him at dbeller@skodaminotti.com or (440) 449-6800.