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The backup business

Mon 1 Jun 2009
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Securing your data is business-critical, Plan-b explains.Data centres and cloud computing have important implications for business continuity practices. Despite the high levels of security and redundancy employed at most data centers, the location of the centre remains a potential hot spot for failure.Due to the high capacity of data centers, a disaster recovery solution needs to provide sufficient storage for customers’ information and keep systems running in case the site is disabled. A data center may be able to provide a local business continuity solution for hardware failure such as a spare blade in a blade chassis, but in order to be able to provide a total site loss solution, the data center has to duplicate its entire infrastructure. This has huge cost implications. Irrespective of where servers are, it’s absolutely critical that the backup servers are physically removed from the primary servers. Otherwise, an event that disrupts the primary servers could affect the backup capacity as well. For any business, losing the functionality of the primary servers is potentially disastrous. The good news is, there is a way around it. Disaster recovery providers can offer data center services that are aimed at hosting backups, rather than live production servers. Traditionally, this has been done using backup tapes or other media. But with advances in technology and online backups, server replication is becoming more practical for even small and medium-sized companies.Online backups can be set up to occur automatically, which removes the risk of human failure. A lot of businesses have a backup horror story or know of someone who has one. Online backups can also speed up recovery, as data doesn’t have to be physically returned to the client. While online backup has been recognised as a great idea for many years, the cost factor and limitations in data connection speeds have meant that it’s only now becoming practical for many businesses.When I worked in the UK in the 1990s, an online energy trading company identified the need to restore their servers faster than available from tape. Server replication wasn’t financially viable back then, so they opted for an online backup solution, at a cost of around $15,000 a month. It’s dangerous for businesses to assume that once data is backed up their business continuity is assured. The most important element of business continuity is not storing the data, but the ability to recover it during a time of crisis, which is why it's essential to entrust backups to a business continuity specialist. Plan-b recovers 1600 servers per year by running recovery exercises for customers, to ensure data is recoverable. The potential for faster recovery is another benefit of online backups. Not being restricted by the nature of tape allows multiple servers to be recovered simultaneously, which dramatically reduces the recovery timeframes of multiple-server environments.For businesses where not only the recovery timeframe objective but also the recovery point objective is crucial, there is a need to restore from very recent data. Plan-b is also in the process of launching a third online backup service, RecordNOW, to log transactions throughout the day. This is especially useful for companies who handle online or phone transactions that don’t leave a paper trail and are therefore at risk in case of server failure.The principle that moves a business to use an outsourced data center or cloud computing, namely using shared resources rather than incurring the capital expenses of providing infrastructure, also applies to using a dedicated business continuity provider. Like an insurance company, a provider of business continuity spreads the risk, sharing costs among many customers. Rather than the data center or an individual business having to provide a backup  option, a business continuity provider only has to provide the infrastructure to cover loss at a few locations.Business continuity providers should only sign up customers in one building to the capacity of their service delivery, as it is conceivable that an entire building may be affected by an incident. This actually happened in Auckland a few years ago, when a contractor cut through a water main in a skyscraper, which then flooded many floors below. A prudent business continuity company needs to respond to the greater centralisation of information at large data centers. IT managers who are considering moving to an outsourced data center or cloud computing model would be well advised to consider the effect this may have on their business continuity and backup practices, and make sure the necessary provision is in place.   

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