Backup is dead - long live recovery!

By Greg Wyman*
Tuesday, 13 April, 2010


Small to medium businesses (SMBs) are coming to realise - many with painful consequences - the crucial need to focus their information security strategies on being able to recover data as part of their backup process. StorageCraft’s Greg Wyman* explains why SMBs must change their focus.

Historically, small businesses have struggled with the complexity of traditional backup technologies. For example, tape, previously the ‘standard’ for backups, is complex, expensive and often requires dedicated management; hence, it is not feasible for most small businesses. Many of these still use very basic backup techniques such as copying data to a USB key, often without a formal process in place.

The challenge for most is that without an automated process for backup and, more importantly, recovery, they potentially run a serious risk of downtime and loss of data if a problem or disaster strikes. Yet if a business loses its data, it may well cease to exist.

As the old saying goes, there are two business types - those that have lost data and those that will lose data.

In the past four years we have seen a strong migration away from traditional tape-based backup products to disk-to-disk real-time recovery (RTR) solutions that focus on recovery and business continuity. Increasing numbers of SMBs are taking backup and recovery seriously, and discovering that RTR eliminates the cost and complexity of protecting data and can recover data and/or database transactions to within 15 minutes ago after a crash or corruption. An affordable price point and easy installation and management come as bonuses.

Best practice

Any company, regardless of size, needs to consider four key issues: the recovery time objective (RTO) - the time it takes to rebuild a system and get it back in to operation; the recovery point objective (RPO) - how far in time they need to go to restore a ‘clean’ data set; the affordability; and the complexity of the solution.

For best practice, the faster the RTO, the less RPO, the more affordable and less complex the solution. Hence, the easier it is to sell (and buy) and the more traction it will gain in small businesses.

Disk-to-disk solutions clearly deliver the best combination of the above. We are seeing companies of all sizes able to implement low-cost, high-value business continuity solutions at a fraction of the cost required even just a few years ago.

Companies are rapidly making the transition from complex backup products to affordable recovery solutions. But they all need to focus on the ability to recover data, databases and systems in real time with a minimum of delay, complexity and cost.

This is why the RTR market is seeing rapid and exponential growth. RTR delivers a single integrated solution that protects data and databases (eg, Exchange, SQL and SharePoint) every 15 minutes throughout the day. It enables files or folders to be restored in seconds, and Exchange mailboxes typically in minutes, and it has in-built (free) disaster recovery. So if a server or PC crashes or becomes corrupted, it can be rebuilt to the same, totally different or even a virtual environment in minutes with just a few mouse clicks.

So rather than requiring backup products, businesses need an affordable, easy-to-use recovery or business continuity solution. Historically, these have been available only to large organisations with deep pockets and extensive IT resources. Now, StorageCraft’s ShadowProtect has delivered an RTR solution that is affordable, reliable and easy to use.

Buyers in the SMB space are typically companies’ IT departments that manage the infrastructure, servers and desktops. Every time a reseller goes to such a customer’s site, it costs money. But using ShadowProtect, that reseller can RDP (remote control) into a customer’s network and right mouse click on the last incremental backup (eg, from 15 minutes ago). Within a few minutes he can bring a crashed server up in a temporary virtual environment (eg, on a spare PC at the customer’s site), then have the customer back in full production very rapidly to their ExactState from 15 minutes ago - including data, Exchange, SQL and SharePoint transactions.

Once the customer is fully operational, the reseller can go on site to investigate the cause of the problem and rectify it. All the while, the customer is still working and in production. This ability gives resellers an exceptional value proposition and competitive advantage.

The server has crashed

Here’s an example: an SBS server crashes at 16:05 at a customer site. With traditional technology, you will need to go on site, identify the problem, possibly source a new server, rebuild the operating system, install all the service packs, security updates, applications, tweaks and scripts - then find the tape from last night’s backup (fingers crossed it actually worked!). Time taken: best case 6-12 hours, worst case: 24-48 hours.

During that time the customer cannot do any work (order entry, emails, accounting, etc) and has lost eight hours of data per user (assuming last night’s backup worked). For a 10-user business that represents 80 hours of lost data. Every transaction, every email, every quote, every order needs to be re-entered. Compare that to an RTR solution, where the server can be rebuilt in minutes (a 20 GB system volume typically takes 12 minutes). It can be rebuilt to the same hardware, totally different hardware or even a virtual environment, with all data and database transactions (eg, Exchange, SQL and SharePoint) restored to their ExactState as of 16:00. Losing only five minutes of data, this represents a compelling business continuity solution to the customer and a powerful competitive advantage for the reseller.

Security matters

I would estimate that over 95% of all restores happen locally. We are seeing our partners and customers implementing solutions that protect customers’ data, databases and system volumes locally, as well as beginning to deliver off-site replication services.

Our recommendation is to implement a local backup solution, with backups happening to a local image repository (disk) and then that image repository replicated off site. We see this as a key component of a complete data protection strategy. In fact, StorageCraft has developed a technology called Continuous Incrementals, which takes one base/full backup and then only takes incremental backups at the sector (not file) level every 15 minutes. This dramatically reduces the volume of data being backed up and requiring removal over the internet to the off-site repository. In order to manage these images effectively, we have released a free technology called Image Manager that helps customers and partners to manage the series of incremental backups to provide fast and simple recovery - both locally and remotely.

Encryption is also key when considering off-site backups, as are the capabilities of the service provider. Is your data secure? How often do they (the off-site hosted provider) test restores, what are their recovery SLAs and what guarantees do they provide?

Historically, customers have considered backup a business expense and a ‘nice to have’ although it was hard to justify and difficult to manage. By positioning RTR and Business Continuity as an ‘insurance policy’, it becomes easier for the business owner to understand and justify. Like all insurance, it is only important when it is needed and companies are reluctant to spend thousands of dollars on a policy that hopefully they will never need.

The key difference is that today, with technologies like RTR, the insurance policy does not have to cost the earth. Imagine if a customer could have 15-minute backups of data, Exchange and SQL (eg, an SBS server), 12-minute disaster recovery, restore files in seconds and do it for just $599. Does that sound like an exceptional value statement?

* Greg Wyman is the StorageCraft APAC Regional Manager. With more than 25 years’ experience in IT and, in particular, storage, Wyman most recently worked for Symantec as Regional Sales Director Australia & New Zealand. He was responsible for the LiveState product line, which he grew to be the market leader in disk-based recovery in the region. Previously, he worked for PowerQuest as Regional Director before its acquisition by Symantec. Other positions include major executive roles with Brocade Communications, and before that Veritas and Seagate Software, before its merger with Veritas.

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