5 Tips for Online Back-Up

Sept. 5, 2007
Too frequently, businesses don't talk about making a back-up copy of critical data until a disaster strikes - but, at that point, it may be too late
By Mark Ferelli

Back-up and recovery are cornerstones for anyone building a data-protection structure. From the earliest days of computing, setting aside a recoverable second copy of essential business data has made the difference between a business' survival and its painful death.

This is by no means an anecdotal consideration, and the inconvenience of lost data is the most trivial element of the equation. Studies by the University of Texas in Austin and the Washington, D.C.-based United States Small Business Administration assert that 93 percent of companies that sustain a loss of critical data go out of business within 2 years. Too frequently, businesses don't talk about making a back-up copy of critical data until a disaster strikes. At that point, it may well be too late.

The data center cannot be the sole repository of mission-critical and business-critical data. It is vulnerable to threats from within and without. Natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, or manmade catastrophes like the World Trade Center attack, make extreme and showy examples. Less showy and more mundane examples include fire or water damage, human I/O errors, and malicious attacks by viruses, worms, or other malware. Modernly, then, off-site back-ups are less a convenience and more a necessity.

In an effort to promote continued education in this consistently vital area, Collierville, TN-based
Remote Backup Systems Inc. (developer of off-site back-up solutions that generate upwards of 1.5 million remote back-ups daily) offers 5 tips regarding off-site back-up and recovery.
  1. Plan, plan, plan. The IT professional has an ethical mandate to safeguard the data with which he/she is entrusted. It is essential to secure data's survivability, and is by no means an off-hand consideration. The kinds of different plans for disaster recovery and business continuity are legion, but in this context, the key planning consideration is a profound understanding of the data being managed. The question to be answered is: What data needs to be protected with off-site back-up and recovery tools? You must decide whether it is necessary to protect your operating system, word processing software, spreadsheet makers, or similar applications programs. If you no longer have the original CDs, back-up will be vital to re-installation. The records you keep should have priority; records are data objects that have either legal or business consequences should they be lost. These would include databases, including customer contact and ordering records as well as inventory control materials. Financial software data files, such as essential spreadsheets for accounting and human resources, need that layer of off-site protection. E-mail is a more and more important source of business records, and needs to be kept safe for both legal and operational transactions. Documents, including memoranda, work product text files, and other intellectual property should be kept under the umbrella.
  2. Adhere to a schedule. Your data is only as secure as your last back-up. Data important enough to be sent offline needs to be protected on a predictable, repeatable schedule. If your HDD crashes and there has been no back-up in 4 weeks, that timeframe is your window of vulnerability. Back-up on a daily basis is commonplace, and is scheduled within a back-up window that will not impact the ordinary daily operations and transactions of the network.
  3. Off-site storage concerns. Transmitting data off-site requires a software solution that provides reliable and repeatable performance. Additionally, data that is going beyond your firewall should be encrypted against external inspection. Key databases with sensitive client identity information, billing records, tax records, and payroll are favorite targets for network snoopers, identity thieves, or greedy information brokers. The stronger the encryption method, the more likely it is that data raiders will give up and seek less cautious prey. The only eyes that should see sensitive company data are the users of it.
  4. Vendor Selection. Selecting an offline back-up software vendor can make the difference between an easy deployment and a nightmarish experience. At no time in your infrastructure development should you be more risk-adverse than in purchasing your remote back-up system. The vendor needs to be experienced; brand-new players are untested, and untested solutions are too great a risk for the data your business survives on. It needs to provide sound pre-sale consulting advice and excellent after-sale support. Remote back-up is nothing new, and established vendors can show a history of deployments covering a wide range of infrastructures and back-up/recovery strategies.
  5. Test, test, test. In an ideal world, there would never be a need to restore data from an off-site back-up repository. But, in the real world, both accidents and malicious conduct take place. The greatest mistake that disaster recovery planners continue to make is that they do not regularly test their plan. You need to have a comfort level that testifies to the reliability of the restore function in the event of catastrophic data loss. Just like back-up, testing the restore function should be done on a regular, scheduled basis. Too many businesses have attempted to restore files only to find them unrecoverable. There is absolutely no replacement for regular testing of the back-up and recovery subsystem.

Data is recognized as an important corporate asset that warrants safeguarding. Aside from the direct financial losses that can result from catastrophic data loss, there are indirect effects that range from loss of investor confidence to customer flight to competitors and lost opportunity costs. The drivers for protecting data are many: smooth corporate operations and transactions, compliance with an array of regulations (federal, state and local), litigation support, and much more.

Business continuity, however, continues to claim primary share of mind when considering the assembly and deployment of an off-site back-up and recovery operation. Businesses are now operating 24/7, depending on data traffic ranging from that original order to fulfillment and after-sale support of the customer. A well-planned, well-tested off-site back-up and recovery infrastructure gets you back in business fast. The alternative doesn't always bear considering, and hindsight will not un-ring the bell.

Mark Ferelli is a freelance journalist and veteran storage specialist. This information was provided by Remote Backup Systems (RBS), a global leader in providing turnkey online back-up software solutions to businesses and IT service providers.
For more information, visit (http://remote-backup.com/).

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