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How should small businesses back up their data?

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It’s not just the Island’s large companies that should be worrying about backing up their data in the event of a disaster.

The HWP fire brought the issue to the forefront, but for many small and home-based businesses cost is a concern, especially in this economy.

However, IT experts said a data back-up plan doesn’t have to be a budget buster and doesn’t require an in-house IT department to manage.

They outlined some simple, cost-effective steps a small or medium-sized businesses should be taking at the very minimum to protect critical data in the event of a disaster.

“Disaster recovery comes in various forms and at different levels of costs,” said Michael Branco, senior vice-president of Ignition. “These also result in various levels of success.”

TeleBermuda International Ltd offers both on and off-island data storage services to small businesses.

“Many small businesses have to balance their need to protect their corporate data and also have an effective business continuity plan whilst managing their budget,” said TBI president and COO Gregory Swan. “Small businesses typically do not have the luxury of an extensive in-house IT team or an outsourced IT vendor that they can turn to and thus many do not give priority to developing a business continuity plan.”

Mr Branco said that typically, the more traditional approach would involve a company backing-up their data and systems to a tape and then storing this at home or in a vault somewhere.

This is actually the most inexpensive way of protecting data, and Mr Branco warned, it can also be the riskiest.

The next step above this approach to disaster recovery would be to take the data to an off-site data hosting centre.

“However,” Mr Branco said, “applications would still run on a server in the company’s office. Although the data is protected at an off-site location, the issue of losing business critical information still remains as applications specific to the business would be lost if a disaster struck the building and servers were destroyed. The company would have the data, but no access to the applications to be able to use the data until the servers are rebuilt. This could take weeks.”

The more secure approach to disaster recovery would be to also protect applications in a remote data centre together with the data.

The company’s production environment is basically recreated in a data hosting facility, with both applications and data copied and replicated between the office server and the data centre.

“This model still exists,” Mr Branco said, “but there’s an even more robust approach. More and more companies are adopting the Private Cloud. With the Private Cloud, companies no longer need to house these production systems themselves and can in fact remove their own servers altogether. An important side-effect of moving a company’s operations to the cloud is that the business automatically has a disaster recovery and business continuity solution in place. Back-ups of data and applications are made by default without having to duplicate everything.

“Data and applications are also copied between multiple data hosting centres. This means that should one centre go down, data and applications will still be available. In reality those data hosting centres are of course built far more robustly than anybody’s own office building with multiple redundancy and back-up systems, but companies do want to see that their data is backed up.”

Another major advantage of the Private Cloud is that company-specific applications and data are moved into a dedicated and secure space within the data hosting centre.

When it comes to cost, with Ignition’s Private Cloud solutions, the main benefit for small to medium companies is that there’s no up-front capital expenditure.

“Ignition buys all the equipment and charges companies on a per user per month basis,” Mr Branco said. “It’s also an attractive option for companies with multiple offices that have a need to access a central system.”

Chris McLeod, COO of Decisions Ltd said a business should first take three basic steps to determine its data backup needs.

l Identify what systems and/or data you need to continue to function at the most basic level (eg email, QuickBooks, documents, industry specific software, website, etc). This is your mission critical data and needs to be the focus of the exercise.

l Identify what recovery time you need for this data (hours, day, days, weeks); This will drive the budget.

l Identify what technology you have in place (servers, storage etc); this is what is storing the data and applications you need to back up and will also drive the budget (ie more servers, more software = more money)

From here a company needs to choose how it’s going to back up that data.

Mr McLeod said in his view the best options include:

l Tape back-up

Pros: Mature technology

Cons: Expensive outlay, media wears out, slow restore, needs to be tested regularly, tapes need to be taken off site, media needs to be changed by user which is prone to people forgetting.

l USB hard disk backup

Pros: Inexpensive, fast back up and restore, no user interaction require

Cons: Multiple disks needed for redundancy and offsite storage, single hard drives can fail, taking hard drives off site is a chore, directly attached to a PC.

l Network Attached Storage (NAS) backup

Pros: Device redundancy options, can replicate data between NAS devices, fast backup, fast restore, accessible over the network, no user interaction required.

Cons: Can be expensive.

l Internet “Cloud” backup

Pros: Built in offsite storage, local services will restore to hard drive in a recovery, software installed that automatically backs up, no user interaction.

Cons: Can be expensive depending on the service and how much data is stored and archive versions retained of the data (ie day, week, month), offshore services have to stream data down over an internet link which can be slow in a recovery.

In addition, Mr McLeod said there’s Storage Area Network (SAN) devices, which are similar to an NAS.

“The fundamental difference being a NAS shares on a network and a SAN looks like a local disk to a computer. With a SAN infrastructure in place using hardware redundancy and snapshots it is very reliable and robust while offering built in back-up features.”

Mr McLeod said Decisions recommends a blend of local on-site back-up and remote off-site back-up

(see factbox).

He added: “We are moving our clients towards a virtualised infrastructure, using VMware. VMware allows for a highly effective use of resources - multiple virtual servers on one physical server instead of a one-to-one, and increases recovery options and time. The price is right for small to medium businesses and the cost efficiencies are enormous - physical server reduction and more use out of existing equipment.”

VMware’s virtualisation software is also offered as part of QuoVadis’s dedicated data storage and disaster recovery services.

Internet storage is generally based on a monthly fee, based per gigabyte, per back-up, which in general is between $1-$5 per Gb and can be tiered or for total storage.

“A managed data storage and back-up service will allow organisations to control their IT cost through tiered storage plans, data reduction technologies that include compression and de-duplication - incremental back-ups - and support security through encryption of data in flight and at rest,” said Mr Swan of TBI.

“Securus from TBI is a managed storage and back-up service powered by Asigra’s Cloud Backup and Recovery software and HP infrastructure.

“The service is a fully managed back-up and recovery service using advanced technology that replaces unreliable traditional back-up technologies such as tapes and optical discs.

“Securus will enable Bermuda-based SMBs to back up their data to an off-site location for Disaster Recovery.”

Mr Swan said TBI provides both an on-Island and off-Island services that includes data vaults in both Bermuda and the Cayman Islands.

He said TBI also provides a cost-effective option where customers are billed only on compressed data size at TBI’s vault.

“In today’s environment of economic uncertainty, companies need to establish a strategic relationship with a trusted partner to protect their data and develop business continuity plans,” Mr Swan said. “The service should support customer’s growth and meet the challenges of protecting data across multiple locations and remote workstations; support increasingly complex IT environments that include virtualisation as well as increasing regulatory and legal compliance.

“More importantly it should provide the SMB sector with a cost-effective solution that will ensure that companies can recover from a disaster. The SMB sector should turn to a managed service provider and implement a comprehensive solution.”

Chris McLeod of Decisions
Greg Swan of TBI

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Published August 17, 2011 at 1:00 pm (Updated August 17, 2011 at 1:55 pm)

How should small businesses back up their data?

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