How to Determine the Right Data Backup Solution for Your Business
Choosing the right data backup solution for SMBs is easier than you might think—especially when you know what to look for. Yes, there are plenty of options to choose from, but you can quickly narrow those choices by focusing on the specific needs of your organization, such as:
- Data storage requirements
- Risks and vulnerabilities
- Server resources
- Recovery objectives
While every business is unique, there are some fundamental rules you should follow when searching for the right data backup. Here’s our take on it …
Focus on business continuity, not just a data backup solution
What’s the difference?
There’s no shortage of ways to back up your data to an external drive, a server or the cloud. But that doesn’t mean those methods will help you maintain operations after a disruptive event.
Stick to solutions designed for business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR). This will ensure your system is specifically designed to prevent downtime, minimize data loss and recover rapidly after a disaster.
Skip the USB sticks
Unless you’re talking about a bare metal restore, there’s no place for USB sticks when it comes to business continuity and disaster recovery.
Sounds obvious, right? Well, you’d be surprised by how many small businesses, right at this moment, are relying on cheap Flash drives to back up their most important data.
Perhaps that’s why 43% of companies go out of business after experiencing a major data loss. Too many businesses are relying on inadequate backup methods that leave them vulnerable to a major disaster.
USB flash drives and external desktop hard drives have their uses. For example, they can be good for excess storage and portability. But they should NOT be used as a business’s primary means of data backup.
Start with a business continuity plan
Your business continuity plan (BCP) will help you determine the right data backup solution for your business.
A BCP is vital to understanding your risks for disaster and your requirements for recovery. It forces you to put your business’s recovery objectives on paper, thus guiding your BCDR decisions. You can find numerous business continuity plan templates online that can provide a good foundation for your own planning. But the key sections that can guide your BCDR are:
- Risk assessment: A list of all probable threats to your operations, particularly those that cause data loss.
- Impact analysis: A deeper analysis of how those events negatively affect operations, such as estimated downtime and costs from a ransomware attack.
- Recovery objectives: The critical goals for recovering data after it has been lost (more on that in the next section).
- Recovery systems & procedures: A breakdown of the specific systems for restoring lost data, as well as the protocols that should be followed to ensure an effective recovery.
Selecting a corporate data backup system without proper continuity planning will greatly increase the risk of deploying a system that doesn’t meet your needs.
Set your recovery objectives
How quickly do you need to recover? How much data can you afford to lose?
Those two questions are integral to your data backup deployment. They set clear, specific goals for the capabilities of your data backup technologies. More specifically, these questions are referred to as your:
- Recovery time objective (RTO): The amount of time in which recovery must be completed to avoid a major operational disruption; i.e. 1 day.
- Recovery point objective (RPO): The maximum allowable age of your latest data recovery point to avoid a data disaster; i.e. 8 hours.
Your recovery objectives should be based on the thorough risk assessments and business impact analyses that are in your business continuity plan. Setting these objectives will likely help you narrow your BCDR options significantly.
For example, if your organization can’t afford to lose more than an hour’s worth of data, then you’ll need a backup solution with a backup frequency of at least once an hour. Fortunately, today’s BCDR solutions can usually do much better than that. The Datto SIRIS, for example, offers a backup frequency of up to every five minutes.
Be realistic about storage needs
SMBs are using more data, year after year. Make sure your data backup system can accommodate that growing storage need or be able to scale easily without major infrastructure upgrades.
We recommend what’s called the 2-3x Multiplier Rule. Generally, your backup and disaster recovery (BDR) device should offer two to three times the total protected space of the agents you’ll be backing up.
For example, if you’re backing up 1TB of data, your BDR appliance should be able to hold double or triple that amount.
Retain the data you need
How long will you need to keep your oldest data? For many businesses, the answer is increasingly “forever.”
But since not all BCDR solutions offer long-term retention, you need to be sure you find a system that does. We’re not saying businesses should hoard their data like Grandma hoards TV Guide magazines. Just keep what you need to sustain operations after catastrophic data loss.
If you’ll need very long-term retention, you may need to store the oldest stuff off-site. This brings us to our next point …
Use the cloud to your advantage
Backing up to the cloud is a good idea for several reasons. Perhaps most importantly, it removes the risk of losing all your data in an on-site disaster, like a hurricane or fire.
But also, when it comes to retaining your data for the long haul, Datto offers the option of Infinite Cloud Retention for businesses that need it. Businesses can store an unlimited amount of data in the Datto Cloud with no time restriction.
Long-term data retention is especially important in industries that need to comply with federal regulations, such as healthcare and financial services. These regulations sometimes also dictate how the data can or can’t be stored in the cloud (i.e. via a private cloud, but not a public one). So it’s important to confirm the compliance requirements before selecting a data backup system.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket: go hybrid
To be clear, we’re not saying to store your data ONLY in the cloud—just as we’re not saying to store it ONLY on-site.
When determining the best data backup solution for your SMB, look for systems that offer a hybrid approach. Hybrid combines an on-site BDR solution (for the fastest-possible access to your data) with replicated backups in the cloud (extra assurance for on-site data loss, plus the ability to recover files anywhere).
Traditionally, organizations store their backups locally for quick and easy access within on-premise infrastructure. But …
- What happens if a fire destroys the on-premise backups?
- What if local backups are encrypted by ransomware?
- What if the building is inaccessible?
These are also reasons to use hybrid cloud backups, ensuring that you’ll still have access to data even if there’s been a catastrophic event on site.
Pay attention to how your backups work
How your backups are completed—the way the data is actually captured and stored—is extremely important. It influences your entire continuity strategy:
- How quickly data is backed up
- How much server resources are used up
- How often data is backed up
- How quickly data can be recovered
In another post, we outlined the differences between incremental backups vs. differential backups vs. other types. But the technology we most recommend for most businesses today is Inverse Chain, a method innovated by Datto.
Here’s how it works and why it’s the new gold standard for data backup…
Flip the backup chain on its head (sorta)
Traditional backup methods are notorious for failure during the recovery process. But Datto’s Inverse Chain Technology results in more resilient backups by solving the most commonly occurring problems in the backup chain.
Like normal incremental backups, it begins with a full back up. But then, each following incremental backup is stored in an independent, fully constructed state. There’s no rebuild process. Each unique block of data is saved only once and is then referenced by all the restore points that use it. This results in faster, more resilient backups and faster recoveries.
Additionally, Inverse Chain enables another key backup capability that we strongly recommend…
Virtualize for faster recoveries
When every second counts, look for BCDR solutions that offer faster access to your business-critical data and applications while you’re waiting on a full data recovery.
Some solutions, such as Datto’s, enable your backups to be booted as virtual machines. That means you can continue running your apps in a virtual environment, from basically anywhere, within seconds. If you can’t afford to lose access to your data (as many businesses can’t), then virtualization is the way to go.
Even better: look for solutions that allow you to virtualize backups in the cloud, in addition to on-site (or a combination of both, known as hybrid virtualization). Off-site virtualization provides yet another layer of protection in the event of a major on-site disaster. If local backups can’t be booted, the cloud backups can be virtualized for near-instant access to protected data, apps and operating systems.
With Datto, you can even virtualize backups from long-term cloud retention in a matter of seconds.
Know your backups are OK
A failed backup is an IT administrator’s worst nightmare. After a major data loss, nobody likes finding out that all the backed up data is corrupt and irrecoverable.
Look for backup solutions that actively monitor your backups for problems. If your backups are bootable VMs, for example, they should be test-booted on a regular basis. Newer BCDR solutions automate this process, freeing up IT resources and eliminating the risk of surprises.
With automatic backup checks, you’ll know if something’s wrong with your backups right away, not when it’s too late.
Recover data in more ways than one
We’ve talked about recovering data in a virtual environment and via full restores, but what about when you just need to recover a single missing folder? Or what if large swaths of data have locked up with ransomware, but not the entire machine?
Various types of data loss event require different recovery methods.
Human error is the leading cause of data loss. We’re all guilty (some of us more than others) of accidentally deleting important files and folders. And when that happens, you shouldn’t need to restore your entire backup to get those few files back. Look for BCDR solutions that enable you to quickly identify and recover lost files, without the need for a full restore.
In the case of ransomware, restore methods like Datto’s Rapid Rollback are the ideal way to get data back. That’s because Rapid Rollback automatically restores the data that has been changed between two recovery points. This is must faster and more efficient than restoring the entire machine, as well as manually identifying all the files that were encrypted. This makes Rapid Rollback a smart choice for other data-loss events as well, such as unwanted changes from an unsuccessful OS or application update.
As a rule of thumb: the more recovery options, the better: bare metal restores, diskless restores, hypervisor virtualization—these are just a few. Before you invest in a BCDR system, find out how many ways you’ll be able to recover data to ensure you’re protected on all fronts.
Stop ransomware in its tracks
Ransomware has become one of the biggest threats to business data today. While there are numerous strategies for defending against the malware (employee training being a big one), you can also get ransomware protection within your BCDR solution.
The Datto SIRIS, for example, uses algorithms to automatically detect a ransomware footprint. For example, if large amounts of data are suddenly being modified at random, the system will say “Hey, this is probably ransomware.” The system notifies the administrator to revert to a backup from before the infection occurred.
This kind of early detection can significantly curb an infection from spreading, thus preventing costly damage and downtime.
Unify your backup infrastructure
This is a fundamental difference between some data backup solutions for businesses. Some require you to weave together a patchwork of disparate systems to achieve your unique backup objectives, while others are more unified.
For example, it’s not uncommon for backup solutions to require you to “bring your own cloud” if you want hybrid protection or manually integrate virtual servers if you want backup virtualization. That integration may work for some, but it adds complexity to both the deployment and management. In turn, that eats up more IT resources and thus increases the cost of your IT operations.
A unified continuity solution like Datto’s solves this by unifying all hardware, software and cloud infrastructure under one roof. The backup system is seamlessly integrated and ready to be deployed “out of box.”
That simplicity can come with its own costs, however, which brings us to the next point.
Define your budget
It should come as no surprise that the costs of data backup systems can vary significantly. So it helps to define your budget somewhat before evaluating your options too deeply.
However, keep in mind that the costs of investing in data backup can be affected by a few different factors:
- Upfront costs: Most BCDR providers (or their MSP partners) will set an initial price for the solution, which can be a flat fee for the device, and/or a monthly service fee, depending on the offering.
- Included services: Some solutions may carry separate fees for each of the services you add, such as cloud storage, long-term retention, DRAAS and so on.
- Deployment and management: Don’t forget to consider the long-term costs of the deployment and time to value (TTV). Systems with greater configuration complexity will cost more to deploy and maintain. A more unified system will cost less to manage, but could cost more upfront. So choosing the right solution really depends on the organization’s backup objectives and budgetary concerns.
Conclusion and BCDR Checklist
If you’ve been reading closely, then by now you should have a general framework for selecting the right data backup solution for your business. But here’s a quick checklist to recap the considerations we’ve recommended above and help you narrow your options.
- Do you have a business continuity plan? Start there. It will help to identify the right system for your specific needs.
- What are your backup objectives? How often do backups need to be performed? How quickly do they need to be restored? How much data must be backed up?
- Where will backups be stored? On site? Off site? Ideally, your system should do both.
- How are the backups performed? Incremental? Reverse incremental? Inverse chain? Each process will affect the speed, resilience and efficiency of the backup, so it’s important to compare these options carefully.
- Can backups be virtualized? If you want instant access to protected machines (files, applications and OS), then this feature is a must.
- Is there a process for backup verification and testing? Is it automated? How can you be sure your backups will be recoverable when you need them?
- What recovery methods are available? Will you be able to restore data quickly in every possible instance of data loss?
- Is there built-in protection against ransomware? If not, consider how quickly you’ll be able to recover systems after a widespread attack across your network.
- How easy is it to deploy? Once deployed, how easy is it to manage?
- Does it fit your budget? How do the costs weigh against the potential costs of an extended downtime event?
Need some help finding the right data backup solution?
Let us help you select the right data backup system for your business. Request a free demo or contact our business continuity experts at Invenio IT. Call (646) 395-1170 or email success@invenioIT.com.