Transmission

XMission's Company Journal

Offsite Backups: a key business continuity strategy

Off-site backups are like a daily exercise regimen. They’re both obviously a very good idea but in the abstract seem daunting to implement. Certainly an off-site backup solution will cost a lot, both up front and ongoing, right? Actually, it might not cost as much as you might expect. If your business has a somewhat talented IT person on staff, you might not even need to find a consultant to set things up for you. In fact, some software solutions even make this feasible to someone only used to managing a print server for your office.

Should I backup to the cloud or my own off-site server?

Backups to a cloud-based service is definitely the best way to offload management to a company which specializes in backups. If cost isn’t a concern and/or you don’t have much data that needs to be backed up, I would strongly recommend that companies without any IT staff consider a fully featured and easy to use cloud based product.

If you have a reasonably talented IT staff and/or a significant amount of data to backup, it probably makes more sense to run your own backup server. With large hard drives (e.g., 3 terabyte) costing only about $150/ea, you can build a backup server for less than $1,000 that can store 10 terabyte (TB) or more. In fact, you might be able to reprovision a workstation for the task simply by purchasing 4-6 hard drives. A few years ago, the drives alone would have cost significantly more money.

Where could I run an off-site server?

So you think that an off-site backup server might make the most sense for your company but you’re wondering where to put it? If you’re thinking that the “data center” your cousin Vinnie has in his basement might do the trick, think again. The security, reliability, and integrity of your data backups deserve better. Servers should always reside in an environment with reasonably cool air, conditioned power, and a secure location.

Absolutely the best solution is colocation and it probably isn’t as expensive as you might think. With the price of bandwidth dropping dramatically in recent years, colocation has never been more cost effective. For example,¬†XMission offers entry level colocation open rack options starting at only $135/month that include bandwidth, power, and rack space. Considering how important your data is to your company’s long term success, the low price should make your CFO very happy.

The Nitty Gritty

Want some specifics? With so many variables regarding your work environment, the operating systems you run, and what kind of data you need to backup, I’m not going to recommend a particular software backup solution. Instead, I’m going to recommend some things that should be applicable for most SMBs.

Here at XMission, we actively backup many terabytes (TB) of data to servers both on site and off-site. Ideally, that’s how I would recommend you do it for your business as well. In such a scenario, you backup all local data to the on site backup server and then it separately backs up all of that data to a server located off-site. By having backup servers both on site and off, you not only have duplicate copies of your backups but get the speed and convenience of local backups while also getting the peace of mind which only off-site backups can provide. If you want to start with just one backup server, decide where you run the most risk of losing data and then move ahead setting up either an on site or off-site server first.

Secure the server by restricting access to it both physically and across the network. Seriously consider encrypting all of the data as an additional layer of security. Security cannot be overstated since your backups likely include private and financial data about your company, your customers, and your staff.

Be sure to automate your backups one way or another or else they’re not going to happen. In most cases, incremental backups are best. Whatever software solution you choose, incremental backups should be an option. If bandwidth and off-site backups are a concern, you can configure things to only backup new and modified files once you have a full copy of all data to back up. You can also schedule automated backups to happen overnight when your office connection isn’t needed by your staff. Another good option is to get a low cost private line connection from your office to the data center you’re colocating at.

Lastly, be sure to build redundancy into your backup server. Hard drives fail more than perhaps any other computer component so it makes absolutely no sense to build a backup server which isn’t in a RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) configuration which can handle at least one failed drive without losing data. I recently setup a home backup server in a RAID 5, using Ubuntu and the ZFS filesystem. So far, it’s working very well and I have peace of mind.

So, what are you waiting for?

Seriously, take this important step to protect the data your business depends on. There are countless resources available online to help you plan the best solution for your particular needs so do some research and then implement your plans. You’ll be happy you did, especially when the CFO’s hard drive fails and you’re able to restore their important data with ease.

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