10 Data Backup Choices for SMBs (and Why Some are Foolish)
You already know that backing up your data is critical, especially in the age of ransomware. But with so many types of SMB data backup choices out there, choosing one can be overwhelming.
Don’t stress! In this post, we outline some of your options to help you determine which backup platform may be right for your organization.
What’s at stake?
We probably don’t have to tell you that 43% of companies that experience a major data loss go out of business forever. Or that ransomware can cause $300 million in damage for a single business. Or that human error is the single greatest cause of data loss for businesses.
Data backup is important—you got it. But, do you know what’s equally important? Choosing the right system.
The dangers of deploying the wrong BCDR
Here are just a few things that can go wrong:
- Backups can be too slow or infrequent, meaning you’ll lose larger amounts of data after a major event
- Your backed up data can become corrupted, causing the recovery to fail, making the data loss permanent
- Recovery can take too long, which prolongs downtime, kills productivity and causes recovery costs to skyrocket
- Backups can be risky when they’re stored only on-site, making it vulnerable to fire, flooding and other natural disasters
- Your backups can be wiped out by ransomware or other malware, even if it’s stored in the cloud
Get the picture? Just because you’re backing up data doesn’t mean you’re safe from data loss. You need to be sure you’re using the right technology.
Your BCDR wish list: general to look for
As you consider some of the specific data backup choices below, here are some general capabilities you should be looking for, so you can prevent the dangers listed above:
- A fast, efficient backup process
- Frequent backups
- Fast, dependable recovery
- Multiple recovery options
- Off-site redundancy
As a rule of thumb: you want to be able to back up your data as often as reasonable and be able to quickly access that data after a disruptive event. The more data you lose, and the longer it takes to restore it, the harder it will be to recover.
Data Backup Choices for SMBs
Not all data backup choices are made equal. Here are some of the options available to you and how they differ (drastically, in some cases):
- Basic backup software: Some businesses (particularly smaller ones without IT departments) back up data from their desktops to an external device or sometimes to another drive on those same computers (!!). Generally speaking, this is not a good idea. While basic backup software might be okay for backing up photos of your cats, it’s not a good approach to business continuity.
- Server disk and tape backup: For decades, this has been the most common method of backup for businesses who take their data more seriously. Data is created and/or modified on a networked computer and then stored on disk drives within the server. Businesses with very large amounts of data may use tape backup, which can be cheaper to deploy for large storage. But the ultimate benefits and reliability of server backups depends on how the data is stored. More on that below.
- External drives: Desktop hard drives and Flash drives are also a common method of backup for personal use, but they’re not usually ideal for businesses. Yes, if you run a very small business, then you can certainly use external drives to store and/or archive files. But if your business runs on data and custom applications, then a little USB thumb drive isn’t going to cut it, no matter how good your backup software is.
- BDR appliance and/or BCDR: In theory, a backup and disaster recovery (BDR) appliance is a little bit like the server backup method mentioned above. But in this case, the backups are stored outside the production server (where data is constantly changing) and inside the BDR—a separate device designed specifically for backups. This removes some of the risk of storing everything on a single server, plus it frees up your server resources for all the other day-to-day production tasks.
- Network Attached Storage (NAS): Conceptually, NAS is a little bit like a BDR device. It’s a storage device attached to your network, usually via an Ethernet switch or router. This is in contrast to direct-attached storage (DAS), which is connectedly directly to the server. It’s also different from a storage area network (SAN), which is essentially its own network of storage devices connected via FC switch. A NAS can be an efficient option for businesses that are looking primarily for backup storage, but it generally won’t offer the full feature-set of an advanced BCDR solution.
- Cloud storage and file sharing: Google Drive, DropBox and Microsoft OneDrive are examples of cloud-based file sync and share (FSS) platforms. These platforms are useful for replicating certain folders to the cloud for the purposes of collaboration and storage. But don’t mistake the productivity benefits of FSS with the benefits of a BCDR solution! While platforms like Google Drive do indeed back up files to the cloud, they are not designed to be used as a business’s primary means of data backup.
- Datacenters and private clouds: Backing up your data to off-site datacenters (whether managed by you or a third party) is good way to ensure you’re not keeping all your eggs in one basket. By storing data off-site, you remove some of the risk of losing data after an on-site disaster (i.e. a fire, hurricane, etc.). But again, it matters how your backups are completed. If your cloud data can’t be recovered quickly enough, or your last backup was days ago, then you’re in trouble.
- Hybrid cloud: Combining on-site backups with mirrored backups in the cloud is known as a hybrid approach. This provides the best of both worlds: on-site backups (ideal on a BDR appliance) for the fastest possible recovery, plus replication in the cloud for added protection against on-site disasters. But even with a hybrid approach, you still need to be sure your data is being backed up efficiently. Here’s what we mean by that …
Ways to back up data
Above, we focused mostly on the locations and devices for data backups. But that doesn’t address how your data is actually stored.
For example, you probably don’t need a full backup of every single file on your server, every day. That would be an unnecessary drain on resources (not to mention time-consuming). You only want to back up the new stuff, because the old stuff should already be backed up.
So, here’s a quick, not-too-technical breakdown of various backup methods:
- Full backup: Every single file. Naturally, full backups take the longest, but you shouldn’t need to do them too often. Most of the backup types below start with a full backup.
- Incremental: After an initial full backup, any new or modified files are added to the backup incrementally. That way, the stuff that’s already backed up doesn’t need to be backed up again.
- Differential: Differential backups are similar to incremental backups, but not quite as efficient. After a full backup, only new and modified files are backed up. However, each new backup includes all the files that were already backed up after the last full backup. For example, you do a full backup on Monday. On Tuesday, you back up only the new/modified stuff. On Wednesday, you again back up new/modified stuff, plus the stuff you backed up on Tuesday. This cycle repeats until your next full backup.
- Mirrored: A mirrored backup is an exact clone without compression. Duplicating a folder from one drive to another is an example of a mirrored backup. Mirrored backups can be good for quickly retrieving select files, but not necessarily good for when a full-system recovery is needed.
- Inverse Chain: This form of backup was developed exclusively by Datto. It’s basically a more efficient variation of incremental backups. You start with a full backup, followed by incrementals. But with Inverse Chain, it’s all about the restore. Each new recovery point is stored in an independent, fully constructed state. When you need to revert to a previous point in time, there’s no rebuild process. Datto uses image-based ZFS’s “copy on write” capability, so that each unique block of data is saved only once and is then referenced by all the restore points that use it. End result: faster, more resilient backups, smaller storage needs and faster recoveries.
Ways to restore your data with Datto
This is important: How you back up your data will determine how you’re able to recover it. That’s key. Because if you can’t access your files or apps quickly enough after a disaster, then your business is dead in the water.
One of the reasons we like Datto’s BDR technologies is that they offer numerous recovery options. For example, here are your restore options with the Datto SIRIS:
- File restore: For recovering individual files and folders
- Local virtualization: Boot the system in a local virtual environment
- Cloud virtualization: Boot the system in the cloud
- Virtualize via hypervisor: Another option for booting in a virtual environment
- Bare metal restore: Restore to a physical or virtual system
- ESX upload: Allows you to upload a restore point to ESX host
- Diskless restore: Allows you to use a USB drive that can be used to restore on available hardware
- Export image: Export a recovery point as a VHD, VHDX or VMDK
How to choose
Selecting a BCDR system should be based entirely on the needs of the business.
Start with a business continuity plan. This will enable you to focus on your organization’s specific risks and continuity requirements.
For example, how quickly would you need to recover data to remain operational? (That’s your Recovery Time Objective, aka RTO.) How recent does your last backup need to be to avoid a major disruption? (That’s your Recovery Point Objective, aka RPO.) And importantly: how much data do you have now vs. will you have in the years to come?
Answering these questions will help you narrow your options to systems that will adequately protect your business, based on your specific operational needs.
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