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Backup Strategies for the SMB

Paul Mah

Earlier this afternoon, I saw a question posted by someone at a popular online discussion board, asking about the best backup strategy to adopt for the home. Reader "Nethead" replied with a number of tongue-in-cheek backup tips for the home user. While decidedly non-technological, I thought some of it makes perfect sense.

 

Inspired by it, I came up with my own list of archival strategies for the small and medium-sized business. Do let me know if you have anything to add to the list.

 

You don't need to backup all your software

 

I'll be the first to admit that I was one of those chaps who back up each release of installation packages for the software used by the SMB I work at. I have come to realize that while this makes sense on one level, backing up installation packages is often a waste of time and resource.

 

While it is true that storage is growing increasingly cheaper by the day, the amount of data that is generated is growing exponentially, too. Among other things, the Internet has changed the face of software distribution, and just about every application can be found online for easy download. The irony is that you are actually better protected with recently released software than an archived one. That version of Mozilla Firefox (3.5) that you archived a few weeks ago has some decidedly ugly bugs and should not be installed at this point.


 

If you are anxious about dealing with unstable Internet connectivity or installing only tried-and-tested versions, simply maintaining a copy of the latest version of the installation files will be more than adequate. Honestly, though, you have bigger things to be worried about if your Internet connection is constantly flaky.

 

Backing up should be everyone's prerogative

 

I think a common mistake is that SMBs go to extremes when it comes to backing up data: They either adopt a "big brother" approach and attempt to back up everything, or there is a complete lack of centralized infrastructure for data protection and everyone is left to their own devices.

 

A good middle ground would be creating a repository of storage space that is properly protected and backed up regularly. Users are then allocated a finite but adequate amount of space for their storage purposes and trained to store all their files on this volume. This passes the baton on to the user, since they are the best candidate to know what is important to them.

 

Unfortunately, a lot of SMBs end up adopting the opposite approach -- regularly backing up every bit of data from each workstation, for "just in case" scenarios. However, this is ineffective use of time and a horrible waste of storage resources, even with the use of remote cloning software.

 

Create additional tiers of storage

 

Blazingly fast RAID-10 array with redundant PSU as well as spare hard disks for hot failover? Well, such hardware is called "near-line storage" in most SMBs, which will have something similar. However, there is really no need to have everything on near-line storage, which is expensive to acquire and maintain -- they are normally never switched off.

 

Certainly, it would be an expensive mistake to treat all data on a single tier. One suggestion I have for SMBs is to create additional tiers of storage that reside on slower -- and cheaper -- appliances. In fact, they can even be stored on tape drives or hard disk drives that are switched off and stored in a safe location.

 

A special repository could be created, for example. Data stored in this repository could be taken offline periodically, perhaps weekly, and transferred to either in the cheaper tape or hard disk.

 

If you have any other thoughts on backup strategies that SMBs can adopt, do feel free to share them here.


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