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Latest Article: IT backup needed, but which one?


Author: MJ Shoer

Backup solutions have long been a bone of contention in the IT world. Everyone knows that you need a good, reliable backup, but the age old question always is what’s the best hardware and software to use?

Traditionally, on the hardware side, it’s been tape drives and magnetic tape media. More recently, inexpensive USB hard drives have become popular as well. There are several well established software applications, like Symantec BackupExec or EMC‘s Retrospect Backup that are fairly reliable, but these backup systems, both the hardware and the software, are notoriously unreliable across the board.

Courtesy photo MJ Shoer, third from left, testifies before a congressional committee earlier this year on security.

I have yet to see a tape hardware and software based backup system that does not need some near constant tuning to keep it running well. Even then, the fact that you get a successful backup does not necessarily mean that you will be able to restore your backed up data. Time and again I have seen the tape drive fail to read a tape that it reports a successful backup to. I have also seen software corrupt backups from time to time.

Given the concerns stated above, regarding tape based backup, what better solutions are available to the small business owner to insure a reliable backup?

Over the past several years, remote, Internet-based backup systems have exploded. There are basically two types of remote backup systems available. Software-based, which use a software agent installed on each computer to be backed up, and appliance-based, which leverages a hardware appliance that looks and acts like another server on your network.

Appliance-based backup systems have blended the strategy of having a hardware-based backup onsite with the security of remote offsite data storage. The appliance backs up your data using state of the art imaging technology to achieve near real-time backups and then compress, encrypt and store the backed up data at a remote secure data center. The appliance model also takes backup one step further into the realm of business continuity and disaster recovery. This is because these appliances typically offer the ability to act as a virtual server, in the event your primary server should fail.

They offer lightning fast data restoration and disaster recovery, all at a very affordable cost. Remote backup only provides a method for backing up the data across the Internet and then restoring the data when necessary. Both have valuable applications. It’s important to understand the benefits and limitations of each, in order to make the best decision.

Another important feature of these remote backup systems is that they are fully automated. This means that they do not rely on human intervention to run properly. Unlike tape and disk based backup, which require a person to insure the right tape or drive is connected to the server being backed up, remote backup systems require no intervention to work reliably. They are also very secure and redundant, another important consideration. The best systems backup to redundant data centers, meaning that the backup is copied to one location and then automatically replicated to a second. The most common model here in the U.S. is to backup to an East Coast data center and then replicate to a West Coast data center, or vice versa. These data centers are typically very secure, with credentialing systems for access and highly secured systems to insure that no one has physical access to your data that should not.

In the best designed remote backup systems, the backups are encrypted before they leave your office, via the Internet, so that even if the data was intercepted en route to the data center, it would appear to the person who intercepts it as gibberish. This is also true for how it is stored at the data center. Even the engineers that run and maintain the data center cannot see your data. You hold the encryption key that enables the data to be meaningful. Without that key, the data is useless. It’s that simple, yet very secure.

If you have not investigated remote backup for your business, I definitely encourage you to do so. They are reliable, automated and very cost effective. Your backup is perhaps your most important piece of IT infrastructure. Don’t skimp on it and insure it’s as reliable as you think it is.

MJ Shoer is president and virtual chief technology officer of Jenaly Technology Group, an outsourced IT services firm based in Portsmouth. He can be reached at mshoer@jenaly.com.


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