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15 Questions to Ask about a Small Business Backup Solution

Picture of David Mezic

David Mezic

Chief Technology Officer @ Invenio IT

Published

Small-Business-Collaboration

Comparing one small business backup solution to another can sometimes feel like searching for a needle in a haystack. Often, you have to dig deep into the specs to uncover the most important differences between various systems. 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 backup 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 the small business backup solution actually designed for business continuity?

This is the key question.

If you can’t depend on your data backup system to keep your business running after a disaster, then what’s the point? 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 might have plenty of other useful benefits for file sharing and collaboration. 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 your backup system capture your entire infrastructure or only a few types of files? Will every computer and endpoint 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 a product like Google Drive as your business’s sole backup system, then it won’t do you much good if your entire network is locked up by ransomware. 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? You’ll need to manually reinstall everything, which could take weeks or months.

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 and MacOS servers, 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. That’s especially true for organizations that have a diverse infrastructure comprised of different operating systems. For greater protection and simplicity, you should deploy one BC/DR system that backs it all up.

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. More recently, research by Palo Alto Networks found that the vast majority of businesses take at least a month to fully recover from a ransomware attack. Nearly 1 in 10 businesses took 5 to 6 months to recover.

Ransomware Attack Recovery TimeCredit: Palo Alto Networks Unit 42 2022 Ransomware Threat Report

To keep operations moving, 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 about small business backup solutions…

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. Local virtualization will typically enable the fastest speeds and performance. But cloud VMs are an added failsafe for incidents in which the local backup device is destroyed or inaccessible.

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 flip side, 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.

Why is hybrid backup better? For most data-loss incidents, you’ll want to restore data from local backups. It’s much faster, especially if you need to recover large swaths of data, because you can move the data easily and reimage systems on other hardware. However, it’s vital to have a failsafe in case something happens to your local infrastructure, such as a fire. Cloud replication ensures you can still access your backups even if your local backup device is toast.

9) How are backups created? What type of backup?

The methods that your BC/DR system uses to create your backups will have several implications on your backup and recovery processes, including:

  • How quickly and frequently your backups can be created
  • How quickly data can be recovered from a backup
  • How much space the backups take up
  • How dependable the backups are during recovery

Incremental and differential backups are two common types of backups. Both involve similar processes of creating a full backup of all data, followed by smaller backups that copy only the data that has changed since the last backup. The main difference between the two is that differential backups back up files changed since the last full backup, while incremental can build off the last incremental backup.

Both methods present challenges, particularly during the restoration process. Incremental backups are notorious for failure during a restore, because they rely on the entire backup chain. If one part of the chain is corrupted, it can render the entire backup useless.

Newer backup methods, like Datto’s Inverse Chain Technology, solve this problem by eliminating dependence on the backup chain. Each new backup is stored in a fully constructed state using ZFS’s “copy on write” capability and can be booted instantly as a virtual machine. This process makes the backups more resilient and dependable, while also enabling backups to be performed more frequently.

10) 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. Other providers may utilize their own cloud infrastructure for a more unified system, such as Datto’s, 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 data center. For example, will your data be stored in just one data center or will it be replicated to multiple, geographically diverse sites for greater protection?

What other protections are in place to keep your backups safe from threats like natural disasters, cyberattacks or tampering?

How is pricing affected by your cloud storage? Do costs rise according to the volume of data, the number of backups or other factors?

All of these are important questions to ask before you begin storing your backups in the cloud.

11) 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.

Custom setups have their benefits, but they can come with big trade-offs:

1) The configuration is more complicated and thus also tends to be more costly in the long run.

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.

12) 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.

Datto also has an innovative restore option called Rapid Rollback, which is extremely useful in situations like ransomware. This feature allows you to quickly restore major unwanted changes without the need for a full system restoration. Only the data affected by the ransomware is restored. The end result is a faster and simpler recovery. This tool is also useful for other data-loss incidents, such as failed O/S updates.

13) How much data can be stored, and for how long?

This question pertains to both backup storage capacity and backup retention. Both are important considerations because you need to be sure that you choose a small business backup solution that is right for your needs.

Storage capacity is one of the first things you’ll need to decide when purchasing a BC/DR system. Whether you’re storing backups on a dedicated device or integrating backup software on your own hardware, you need to be sure there is ample space to protect your entire computing infrastructure and maintain several recovery points. BC/DR providers typically offer a wide range of device “sizes,” enabling you to choose the capacity that fits your needs.

Data retention is also important, because it determines how long your backups are saved before being pruned. This applies to both local and cloud backups.

Depending on the nature of your business, you may only need to retain your oldest backups for a few weeks, while some organizations might need to hold onto them for months (particularly if there are compliance concerns).

14) Are backups tested? How?

Backup testing is a critical component of your continuity planning. It ensures that your backups are working properly and can be restored without issue when needed.

But since this testing process looks very different depending on which BC/DR platform you are evaluating, you need to confirm exactly how backups are tested.

For greater assurance and simplicity, consider systems that offer automatic backup testing. Ideally, each new backup should automatically be tested for viability and recoverability. An automated testing process (sometimes referred to as backup validation or verification) will remove the need to manually check the backups, thereby freeing up your IT resources for other tasks.

15) What about M365 backups and other SaaS data?

If you’re using cloud-based productivity suites such as Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace, then you need to be sure this data is protected too.

Most BC/DR systems only create backups of the data that resides on your servers and endpoint devices. But the data stored in M365 is no less important. That data can encompass all the different files today’s businesses run on, such as emails, spreadsheets, PowerPoints, OneDrive files and so on. And unfortunately, data loss is very common in M365, due to accidentally expired licenses, malicious deletion, accidental deletion and other causes.

As you evaluate backup solutions, be sure that your SaaS data is part of the discussion. Independent platforms for M365 backup are strongly recommended to ensure that all your business data is protected.

Don’t Choose the Wrong Small Business Backup Solution. Get Guidance from Our Experts.

Still comparing your options? Let us help you find the right fit for your organization. Request a free demo or call our business continuity experts at (646) 395-1170 or email success@invenioIT.com.

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