Re-examine Your SMB Backup Strategy

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Changing the Way You Purchase Storage

Ensure that IT has the flexibility to build and efficiently run a shared infrastructure.

Advancements in technology mean that new deployment options might become available or that previously impractical strategies become viable over time. As such, it only makes sense to review various facades of one's IT operations from time to time.


I briefly went through a list of suggested IT projects for small- and mid-sized businesses last week. Today, let's take a closer look at the current state of storage technology so that you can better determine whether your SMB's current backup strategy needs a refresh.

Online Backup

Cloud computing is the latest catch phrase on practically everyone's lips, though it's not a new concept. Even as some SMBs have had a somewhat knee-jerk reaction against storing their business-critical data on the Internet, others have already made cloud storage part of their business operations. Personally, I would urge SMBs to consider online backup as they would any other storage option, and not adopt it blindly.

Some common issues include running afoul of compliance regulations, concerns over hacking or the storing of potentially sensitive data on servers located in foreign countries. As you can see, some of these deterrent factors might be insurmountable, though robust encryption of backup files will serve to protect against data leakage even in the event of a successful security breach.

On the plus side, businesses can stand to quickly tap into a ready, purpose-built backup infrastructure without having to spend a dime on capital cost. Personally, I make use of an online service called SugarSync that performs a "continuous" backup of my files in the background. It has already saved me once when I accidentally deleted an entire folder with a few hundred important files, only realizing it weeks later. Thankfully, all my files were recoverable thanks to its support for file versioning.


NAS/SAN Backup

The line between Network Attached Storage (NAS) and Storage Area Network (SAN) hardware is rapidly blurring where features and storage capacities are concerned. Today, it is not uncommon for mid-level NAS to sport dual Gigabit Ethernet ports, iSCSI support, or anything from five hard disk drives with the option for expansion to a single unit packing 24TB out of the box. In addition, most NAS is certified for virtualized environments these days, while others even offer replication between appliances.


On the other side of the spectrum, the prices for SAN have also come down to a price point where mid-sized businesses should have no problem affording it. Organizations that demand the highest performance or that want to architect a high-availability virtualized infrastructure will certainly want to consider this option. Of course, SAN deployments still rate on the high-end of the cost scale, as they do generally require trained staffers to operate. In fact, improper ratification of a SAN error by an IBM engineer brought down a major bank's network for several hours in Singapore last year.


Tape Backup


I recently spoke to representatives from Tandberg Data who took time to highlight the continued relevance of tape technology in SMBs in an earlier blog. While they have an obvious interest in promoting tape-centric options, I thought what business unit manager Ted Oade shared on the distinct advantages offered by tape makes sense. For one, tape might be mandated by compliance requirements for controlled, off-site backups, in addition to the inherent "off-line" portability afforded by tape cartridges. The latter offers protection against inadvertent corruption, and instills a certain level of traceability that can help guard against deliberate data modifications. In addition, alternative solutions such as cloud-based backups might be unsuitable for large volumes of data. Tape still offers the lowest storage cost today.


So while I would not advocate that every SMB deploy tape solutions, it might be an option worth examining for secondary or tertiary backup. One interesting tidbit of data that I've found out is that the largest consumer of tape is Google, which single-handedly consumes some 50,000 LTO (Linear Tape-Open) tape cartridges every quarter.

In Conclusion

So should your SMB go for online backup, NAS, SAN or tape backup? One possible strategy might entail the use of multiple tiers such as a NAS backed by a tertiary tape system for off-line, off-site backup. Yet, the differences in organizations mean that there can be no standard reply on this, unfortunately. Complicating matters somewhat are hybrid abilities such as NAS that offers Amazon cloud-replication or Direct Attached Storage (DAS) cartridge systems that connect using USB.

In closing, my advice would be to carefully consider the merits of each technology to come up with a solution that achieves your RTO (Recovery Time Objective) and data backup needs, as opposed to being stuck with a specific appliance or category of hardware.