11 Questions to Ask about a Small Business Backup Solution
Comparing one small business backup solution to another can sometimes feel like searching for a needle in a haystack. But finding the right fit is a lot simpler once you know what to look for – and what to avoid.
It’s true that today’s BC/DR options can seem endless. Backup technologies have come a long way over the last two decades. New innovations and faster cloud capabilities have ushered in a new era of devices and services to meet every possible need.
But more choice also means more hassle for the IT managers and business owners who are tasked with finding the best solution for their budget.
We’ve put together these straightforward questions to help you narrow down your options.
1) Is it actually designed for business continuity?
This is the key question.
If you can’t depend on your data backup system when you need it most, then it’s not a good fit. A good backup solution is built for business continuity, ensuring that your company can quickly recover after a data-loss event.
So right off the bat, you can strike off any free apps, cloud file sync-and-share services and other limited-functionality “backup” products. Those offerings may have plenty of other useful benefits, but they won’t actually help your business survive a disaster – and you’ll understand why as we dig into the questions below.
2) What kind of data is backed up?
Can it capture your entire infrastructure or only a few types of files? Will every computer be backed up, or only servers?
This may sound obvious, but you need to look for solutions that can back up everything: files, application data, operating systems, the whole shebang.
For example, if you’re regrettably using Google Drive as your sole backup system, then it won’t do you much good if your computers are destroyed in a fire. Sure, you may be able to download all the files from the cloud, eventually. But what about the operating systems and critical applications that power your operations? What about SaaS application data stored in cloud services like O365?
When disaster strikes, you need to be able to restore everything as quickly as possible. Otherwise, your business may never reopen its doors again.
3) What operating systems / environments are protected?
Here’s another simple way to quickly narrow your options: forget about the systems that don’t fit your infrastructure.
For example, if your business uses Macs, then you can weed out the backup solutions that are only for Windows. Same with Linux, as well as virtual environments, VMware, Hyper-V – whatever your infrastructure looks like.
Again, seems obvious, but you need to be absolutely sure that the system is designed for your specific computing environment.
4) How often can backups be performed?
Now, we’re getting to the heart of any BC/DR system … backup frequency.
Today’s businesses create new data at a faster rate than ever before. Email, customer records, accounting data, inventory systems, creative assets – it’s all growing by the minute. And when disaster strikes, the size of the data loss can be staggering unless a backup has been performed recently.
How often you back up your data will depend on your specific needs and recovery point objectives (RPO), which you should identify in your business continuity plan. Then, look for backup solutions that are capable of meeting that frequency, whether it’s every few minutes, every hour or less frequent.
5) How fast can you recover your data?
Your backups may be useless if you can’t recover them in a reasonable amount of time.
Consider the impact of a ransomware attack, which can freeze your operations by locking up all your data. It’s not just the loss of data that costs you. It’s the downtime. A 2017 study found that small companies lost more than $100,000 per incident due to the downtime alone.
Businesses need to be able to recover their data in seconds or minutes, not hours or days. This means that the recovery needs to be almost instant, which brings us to the next question …
6) Can backups be virtualized?
Virtualized backups enable you to boot a backup as a virtual machine – often within seconds on BC/DR systems like the Datto SIRIS.
That is exactly the kind of instant recovery that small businesses need if they want to avoid a massive downtime event after data loss.
And, if the backup has captured your entire operating system, you’ll be able to continue using your critical applications as normal, albeit in a virtual environment on another machine.
Additionally, look for backup solutions that enable you to boot the VM locally or on the cloud, so that you can recover from anywhere.
7) What other recovery options are available?
Different types of disasters will call for different types of recovery.
For example, if somebody accidentally deletes a spreadsheet, you shouldn’t need to restore an entire backup or use virtualization. A simple file-level recovery will do.
On the flipside, if you’ve got an entire server that has been infected with ransomware and is no longer booting, you may need a more comprehensive recovery option, such as a bare metal restore.
The best small business backup solutions will offer a wide range of recovery options, such as:
· File-level restore
· Volume restore
· Local, offsite and hybrid virtualization
· ESX upload
· Bare metal restore
· Diskless restore via USB drive on other hardware
· Backup image export (VHD, VHDX, VMDK, etc.)
The more recovery options, the better. And if you’re unsure why, here’s a handy flowchart from Datto that shows how different options are better-suited for certain scenarios in order to get you back to business in the shortest time possible.
8) Where are the backups stored?
Are they kept on-site at the business’s location? And if so, what happens if the local infrastructure is destroyed in a fire?
Are they stored in the cloud? And if so, how fast can you restore the data? How much control do you have over how the data is handled? If something happens to your cloud backups, do you have another copy you can access?
These days, the ideal configuration is a hybrid cloud backup. This will involve deploying a dedicated backup appliance on-site for the fastest access to your data, plus replication in the cloud for greater assurance.
9) Private cloud? Public? Geo-redundancy?
If your backups are being stored in the cloud, you’ll want to know where and how your data is being stored.
Some backup solutions may require you to use public cloud services, like AWS, Google Cloud or Microsoft Azure. Others providers may utilize their own cloud infrastructure for a more unified system, or they may give you the option to choose.
Every business will have their own preferences. Just be sure to verify what measures are in place to protect your backups if something happens to the datacenter. For example, will your data be stored in just one datacenter or will it be replicated to multiple, geographically diverse sites for greater protection? These are the questions you need to ask.
10) How easy is it to deploy?
When evaluating small business backup solutions, IT managers need to consider not just the investment cost, but also the time cost of deployment and management.
Some BC/DR providers require you to configure multiple solutions together in order to achieve true business continuity. For example, the virtualization may need to be powered by a separate server than the backup device, or an image-level backup may require custom configuration, or multiple software suites might need to be installed.
Customization is nice, but it can come with big trade-offs: 1) the configuration is more complicated and thus also tends to be more costly in the long run, and 2) a more complicated, less-unified system can actually compromise the overall quality of the data protection, i.e. through more resource-intensive backup processes, higher risks of failure within certain components, and so on.
We like Datto’s backup systems because they’re fully integrated, unified and configured right out of the box. But ultimately, every business needs to determine the best fit for their unique needs.
11) Extra protection against ransomware?
Data backups provide inherent protection against ransomware, because they allow you to roll back to a recovery point before the infection occurred, thus removing the threat and restoring the data.
But as any ransomware victim will tell you, it’s not always that simple.
Even with backups, some businesses remain offline for days or weeks following an attack, particularly if the infection has spread across a large network. This is why it’s critical for businesses to stop an attack as early as possible. The quicker the response, the easier it will be to contain the infection and restore the impacted machines.
Some BC/DR providers like Datto have introduced built-in ransomware protection, which actively checks backups for the earliest signs of an infection. At a time when ransomware attacks are happening every 14 seconds, this is a good feature to have.