Beyond Backup

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My laptop recently was transformed into an expensive lump of metal recently, and I learned the hard way that not all backups are the same.

Small and mid-size businesses (and SOHO businesses like me especially) sometimes approach backup from a minimalist perspective: Back up all of your data files once, and then do incremental backups once a day. And for the most part, this is a functional approach. But what we don’t think about ahead of time, until the inevitable happens, is that restoring computer programs, file settings, access control levels, passwords, registry settings, and user preferences takes an enormous amount of time. In fact, it’s likely that restoring all of these variables takes longer than actually restoring the data. If you’re a small business, and disaster strikes, even if you do have immediate access to data afterwards, it may still take hours, or even days to get back up and running again if you haven’t implemented complete disaster recovery procedures into your backup system.

And when we have to start restoring all of those settings, we really learn the difference between backup and disaster recovery. Backup is backing up data. Disaster recovery backs up everything. A small business that does incremental data backups once a day may be preserving essential data, but they are still vulnerable. In the event of a disaster, when everything is lost, that data will do little good without the systems available to run it. The concept of disaster recovery, sometimes known as “bare metal recovery”, provides for backing up and restoring the entire system—including all user and system settings, all applications and customizations, the operating system, permission settings—in short, it restores everything you need to actually access and work with the data in the same way you did before the disaster. The most straightforward way to do this is to implement an offsite replica for quick and easy failover.

Naturally, when you have that redundant offsite system sitting there for years, it makes sense to test it every now and again just to make sure it’s still working. Without testing, there could be a major flaw in it, and you wouldn’t know it until after the disaster. An automated disaster recovery testing facility can be found in some backup/disaster recovery solutions which will simplify the testing process. For that matter, a little automation goes a long way when it comes to backup and disaster recovery, since the manual-intensive approach really is a poor use of skilled IT staff, and prone to error.

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