What is backup and disaster recovery?

Posted:
04/20/2019
| By:
Guest Author
Explore the origin of backup and business continuity services and learn what to look for in a BDR solution.

At some point, all computer hardware fails. It’s a fact of life. When hardware fails, it can cripple an SMB and destroy profits in a second. Fortunately, those times are exactly what backup and disaster recovery are for.

Whether it’s from age or accident, data loss is inevitable.  An effective business continuity plan and backup & disaster recovery (BDR) solution are essential failsafes in today’s modern business world.

Truthfully, the best failsafe would be if we, as MSPs, had a crystal ball. But, unfortunately, there’s no way to predict the future. Hard drives malfunction unpredictably, cyber-attacks are on the rise, and natural disasters may strike with little to no warning. 

To help keep data secure, backup disaster recovery needs to be performed quickly to minimize downtime when the unforeseeable happens.

Thankfully, backup and disaster recovery solutions have come a long way, and as MSPs, you have the opportunity to make this difference for your clients. Long gone are the days of media-vaulted backup and manual recovery methods. 

Today’s BDR solutions provide secure, fast, monitored, continuous backup and rapid data restoration through cloud-based architecture. Let’s look at the role each tool plays in protecting your clients.

What are the differences between backup and data recovery?

It’s important to note that data backup and disaster recovery are not the same, but both are necessary for long-term business continuity. The main difference between the two is that a backup is consistently taken in order to be ready to restore data after a catastrophe, breach, or another adverse impact event has occurred. On the other hand, data recovery is the act of retrieving lost or damaged data to its original, pre-event state.

The evolution of backup

What backup disaster recovery is now is a long way from where it started. Data backup software began with tapes being copied in a machine and stored in a physical vault, typically off-site – and that process didn’t change much for decades. 

On-site backup solutions are nearly as old as computing itself; tried, trusted, and true. Whether it’s a database that needs backing up, unstructured files, applications, or anything in between—there are backup and disaster recovery services out there that can get the job done.

The resultant backup may have gone to tape, optical media, or disk, but what that backup and disaster recovery created is the same—a collection of backup media that got put in a vault. To keep that media safe, on-site backup always had an off-site component, which mainly consisted of somebody physically transporting the backed-up media elsewhere. While this was often called off-site backup, it’s more appropriately called “off-site backup media vaulting.”

During the past two decades, this vaulting form of off-site backup meant either moving media or, more progressively, creating a storage repository at a remote site that existed on the company’s Wide Area Network (WAN). This would also require backup data traveling over what were almost always lower-bandwidth WAN links after the backup was complete.

This either limited the time frame in which a backup window could occur or limited the bandwidth available to business users. As a result, storage costs always soared in an era where storage was still prohibitively expensive to anyone but large enterprises. 

A decade ago, the evolution of backup brought a new generation of off-site backup. With online backup, a backup and disaster recovery services provider backs up data to an off-site, hosted platform, removing the need for media transport.

That same evolution has merged backup with cloud computing, moving that previous generation of backup into the modern age. Over time, bandwidth has increased, and it has become possible to use third-party services to handle online, off-site backup. 

At the same time, hardware has become abstracted through virtualization. This combination of increased bandwidth and commoditized hardware, coupled with the natural evolution of business continuity software, has enabled off-site backup and disaster recovery solutions to offer continuous data protection with the same level of redundancy that was once only a feature of expensive systems. Now, thanks to cloud computing and MSP support, this level of backup is available to many SMBs at a modest price.

This increase in availability is a welcome change as neither off-site nor on-site backup is enough in the event a disaster strikes. Striving for more airtight disaster preparedness has been the big driver behind cloud-based off-site backup. If a disaster happens, the data on physical backup media (off-site or on-site) will not be enough to recover fully. 

Key terms and definitions

What backup and disaster recovery (BDR) is, by definition, is a combination of data solutions that work cohesively to ensure a company’s business continuity. There are many components and metrics to consider when discussing BDR with your clients. Here is a glossary of terms MSPs should familiarize themselves with on the subject:

Remote data backup is the process of backing up data created by remote and branch offices (ROBOs) and storing it securely. Businesses with ROBOs require backup and disaster recovery services that can support the company’s data protection policies and business service levels.

Backup window is the timeframe within which backups are scheduled to run on a given system. These are often planned during times of minimal usage (i.e., after hours).

Recovery time objective (RTO) is a benchmark indicating how quickly data must be recovered to ensure business continuity following a disaster or unplanned downtime.

Recovery point objective is a benchmark indicating which data must be recovered for normal business operations to resume following a disaster or unplanned downtime. This is often based on file age (i.e., all data backed up before date X must be recovered) and, in conjunction with RTO, can help administrators determine how frequently backups should execute.

Disaster recovery is the area of security planning that deals with protecting an organization from the effects of significant adverse events. Significant negative events, in this context, can include anything that puts an organization’s operations at risk. Examples include cyber-attacks, equipment failures, hurricanes, earthquakes, and other natural disasters.

Cloud disaster recovery is a component of a disaster recovery plan that involves maintaining copies of enterprise data in a cloud storage environment as a security measure.

Business continuity encompasses a loosely defined set of planning, preparatory, and related activities intended to ensure that an organization's critical business functions will either continue to operate – or be recovered -- despite serious incidents or disasters that might otherwise have interrupted them.

Types of backup

MSPs are tasked with serving the data needs of a wide variety of SMBs. No two businesses are alike in their size, network needs, or the way they use their data. 

Fortunately, MSPs have a variety of backup and disaster recovery services at their disposal. Most MSPs use one, or a combination, of the types of backup methods listed below:

Full backup is a method where all the files and folders selected (or even an entire machine) will be backed up in their entirety. It’s commonly used as a first backup and is then followed up with subsequent incremental or differential backups.

When you perform a full backup, it’ll contain a complete backup of all selected data. When the next backup is scheduled to run, the entire list of files and folders will be copied again (regardless of whether any changes have been made). This simplifies the restore process, as the complete dataset lives in each backup task. However, this method consumes the most storage space and can cause backups to take quite a bit of time to complete.

Differential backup is a process that begins with one full backup and then subsequently backs up all changes that have been made since the previous full backup. This allows for much faster backups (but slower restores) and makes more efficient use of storage capacity.

Incremental backup is essentially the same as differential backup, with one crucial difference. After the initial full backup, subsequent backups store changes that have been made since the previous backup cycle, whether it was a full or an incremental cycle.

Mirror backup is, as the name suggests, a real-time duplicate of the source being backed up. With mirror backups, when a file in the source is deleted, that file is eventually also deleted in the mirror backup. Therefore, mirror backups should be used with caution as a file deleted by accident, sabotage, or through a virus may also cause that same file to be deleted in the mirror location. Some industry professionals do not consider a mirror to be a “true” backup.

Many online backup and disaster recovery services offer a mirror backup with a 30-day delete. This means that when you delete a file on your source, that file is kept on the storage server for at least 30 days before deletion. This helps balance a level of safety with the efficient use of online storage, which can be relatively expensive.

Many backup disaster recovery utilities do provide support for mirror backups.

Advantages:

  • The backup is clean and does not contain old and obsolete files

Disadvantages:

  • There is a chance that files in the source deleted accidentally, by sabotage, or through a virus may also be deleted from the backup mirror.

Local backup is any backup where the storage medium is kept on-site. Typically, storage is plugged in directly to the source computer being backed up or connected to the source through a local area network (LAN). This is what backup and disaster recovery is in its most basic form. The challenge, however, is this method contains several inherent disaster-related risks as there is no off-site redundancy or cloud component.

Cloud or remote backup is a type of off-site backup that allows users to access, restore, or administer backups at the source location or off-site. Data here is backed up in the cloud (either directly or via a local appliance). This type of backup provides some of the strongest available protection against natural disasters and unplanned downtime.

Hybrid Backup

Typical cloud backup solutions, also known as online backup, focus on copying data files to a physically remote location which is great for disaster recovery. Hybrid backup integrates cloud backup and local backup into one effective backup and disaster recovery solution.

Hybrid backup combines both cloud and local backup, where the local backup is typically a USB drive, network shared drive, or a network-attached storage (NAS) device. The ideal hybrid backup solution integrates these forms of backup in an automatic, user-friendly utility running transparently in the background. 

While local backups are typically sufficient for protecting the data and other information on a computer system, the cloud backup adds a level of assurance that off-site backup data is safe from disaster. 

Hybrid cloud data recovery backs up each production server as a virtual machine image, either by copying the current VM or converting physical servers to VM images (a process referred to as physical to virtual, or P2V) as part of the backup process. The local appliance stores these images just like it does regular file backups but also provides a platform on which they can be restarted if the primary server goes down.

In this way, a single appliance can act as a local standby server for multiple primary servers and VMs. The failover isn’t automatic, but many hosted backup and disaster recovery services can provide what's essentially high availability (HA) to the production server environments as part of their backup infrastructure. The final step is to move these VM images to the cloud provider's data center, which has enough compute resources to restart any of them in the event of a disaster at the client's site.

Data backup and disaster recovery are not the same for multiple reasons. First, backup software can fail, or the person responsible for backing up can fail. Secondly, backing up without recovery in mind is equivalent to not backing up at all. 

Lastly, there are other steps you have to take to successfully restore your data in the event you need your backup. Steps like assembling the right recovery environment (the right operating systems and servers and storage) and the right people, processes, and tools to bring back that backed up data.

Why do businesses need BDR?

1. Backup software can fail

There are numerous examples where an unjustified faith in data backup disaster and recovery software left an organization hanging after a disruption. Take the case of a civil district court in New Orleans

What seemed like a routine recovery of the county’s conveyance and mortgage records database after a server crash turned into a bigger headache than a Mardi Gras night in the French Quarter. Without conducting a full restoration test, the installation of an upgraded version of backup software actually failed and went undiscovered, despite an indication that the upgrade had been successful. 

For nearly a year, new records that were thought to be backed up were not, all while old copies were purged every 30 days. Since the court system elected to use a mirror backup system, it was too late to recover the files once staff realized they weren’t backed up.

2. You have to backup with recovery in mind

Steven Covey states it best in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: “Begin with the end in mind.” The same goes for data backup and disaster recovery. You have to back up your data as if you will need to get it back one day.

Here’s an example of why this is so critical.

One of our partners used a third-party company to manage their backups. That third party backed up data from different servers and multiple applications by striping it across tape. 

From a backup perspective, their main concern is not restoring data: it’s to back up data as quickly as possible. Inevitably, a disaster came, requiring the IT team to recover their data. 

When they began to bring data back from these tapes, they quickly realized that striping their data created a million-piece jigsaw puzzle that was nearly impossible to reconstruct. In the end, they couldn’t find all the tapes necessary to put together this “puzzle.”

3. Data backup is only the first chapter

Having a secure copy of your data backed up at an off-site location is only chapter one of what backup and disaster recovery is. Chapter two is having the right recovery systems connected to your data, meaning you need to have the right servers, storage, hypervisors, and operating systems for your recovery environment. 

Your recovery environment needs to reflect your production environment. This is not an easy step as there are many daily changes in a production environment that IT staff are frequently too busy to capture.

Supposing you do have the right recovery environment, chapter three then becomes having the right people, processes, and tools needed to recover when you need them. We see this problem all the time: the Oracle guy is not available, the Windows guy was not willing to travel, the runbooks were outdated or based on the older operating system, etc. Your team needs to be on the same page about having the right recovery mindset, which means:

  1. a) Backing up data according to your recovery strategy;
  2. b) Connecting the right recovery systems to the properly backed-up data; and
  3. c) Creating a programmatic approach to recovery by arming yourself with the right people, processes, and tools and making sure they’re all available at the right time.

Having the right people is not enough. Having the right people and making sure they’re collaborating around the same data protection philosophy is the only way to ensure effective backup and disaster recovery for your clients.

Keep clients prepared

Now that you’ve seen what backup disaster and recovery is capable of, we hope you better understand how important it is to your clients. As an MSP, it’s your job to maintain your clients’ peace of mind and make sure their data worries are a thing of the past.

Fortunately, ConnectWise is on your side. If you’re looking for methods to enhance your BDR protocol, check out our eBook on SaaS data backup. As always, for any other questions or concerns, you can contact ConnectWise today.

FAQs

Why is backup and disaster recovery (BDR) important?

No one can predict the future. Weather events, unplanned outages, and cyber-attacks are inevitable and unplannable. Subsequently, an effective backup and disaster recovery plan becomes your most important line of defense.

Having the proper backup system in place protects your business, it protects your customers and employees, but most of all, it protects your peace of mind.

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