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April 12, 2013

Backup & Recovery Strategies

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Did your hard-drive just die? Thieves break into your car and steal your laptop? An hour before a vital business meeting on Tuesday morning and you realize the now-unavailable Monday night version of your document is desperately needed. Horrible, your server just got infected with a nasty virus and all the data has been corrupted. Or even worse, the upstairs office suite flooded and forced everyone out of the building creating significant water damage to the equipment. These are a few of the situations we have witnessed over the years. The list of ways to incur data loss goes on and on, and unfortunately this is a common ongoing event in today’s world so we need to be prepared for it.

At times like this having a reliable I.T. company to call for help is important, but is not always the solve all solution right? What you need is a solid backup and recovery strategy already in place. This strategy will result in a secure up-to-date backup of your data and a step by step process for recovery. Most, if not all companies who hire us, typically only have one type of backup for data recovery (We will discuss the other important types later on), but even more daunting is that 90% of them have never even tested the validity of the backup or have a process to follow which can double and even quadruple the recovery time which will lead to unnecessary costs and data loss.

Our backup and recovery strategy is based on feedback we get from our customer(s). We determine the recovery time and recovery point objectives. Essentially, we need to know what is acceptable in terms of how old that data can be and the amount of time it takes to recover equipment such as a workstation, laptop, server, etc. We also need to understand what is considered a disaster. Perhaps, the inability to print, access a server, a missing cable for the projector, or a fire, etc. Whatever the situation, transparent communication is essential to have an iron clad plan in place for the recovery process to be successful.

We recommend our customers have a disaster recovery plan which requires multiple types of onsite and offsite backups. But before I jump into the technical aspects of this topic, I want to point this out: business owners always try and achieve the highest profit margins with as few employees as possible to successfully deliver their services. In other words, our payroll each month is typically our largest expense and if we suffer from lack of productivity or continuous downtime of any sort, large amounts of money is wasted. Having processes and best practices in place to make sure employees stay productive is important and part of the overall formula to achieve this end result by minimizing risk.

Businesses should have an ongoing onsite image of all computers and servers. Images are essentially a snap shot of the system and can be used to recover operating systems onto new or existing hardware and prevents an end user or I.T support from having to re-configure all of the software, customizations, etc. Having the images backed up onsite is important for fast recovery. In other words, if you are recovering a server that has 2 Terabytes of data over an Internet connection expect to wait weeks or even months depending on the download speed. Preferably, this would be done over a Gigabit connection from a ‘redundant-drive local network attached storage’ device.

The Microsoft Windows operating system has system image backup features built in, but like all software, it has limitations. There is other companies on the market we recommend who specialize in image based backups. A great starting point is to configure and schedule the built-in system image software. Then you will want to make a formal investment into specialized software so you have the ability to check the validity of these backups and test the recovery process without impacting the live system.

Onsite file and folder backups are also important and arguably the most well-known for unique file version recovery. For example, businesses typically have a unique backup that runs every night to achieve seven unique days of data. This offers the ability to roll back to a file with a prior date. This is also used as a failsafe backup in the event an image backup does not work. Never think that you have too many backups because you don’t or think once you setup backups they continue to run without supervision because they don’t! Lastly, If you have Windows 8, go into the Control Panel, click on File History, and turn File History on. This is a new feature that is extremely powerful and can be useful when wanting to roll back to a previous version of a file quickly without having to call upon the I.T. team.

One very important backup we have determined that most companies do not have is the offsite image of a server or critical desktop such as the bookkeeper’s system. These backups are especially important for disaster recovery. Imagine a scenario when you realize the server and backup devices have been stolen or damaged in a fire or flood. Essentially all of your data is gone and long periods of downtime awaits your future that has huge impact on the success of your business. An offsite image backup can be virtualized in the cloud and accessed remotely. Mind you, there is certain software licenses, tasks, and processes that need to be in place prior for this to occur, but the good news is we can do it.

To be respectful of everyone’s time, I’ve made this newsletter article as brief as possible. There is so much more in terms of what you can backup, how you back it up, the software you can use, and the processes that need to be in place to recovery accurately and fast. We are always available to discuss this topic in further detail. Thanks again for being a loyal reader of our Predictably Better newsletter. We’ll be back next month!

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