Consider the online alternative to tape-based backup

Christine Eyre
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Particularly for medium-sized companies, potential advantages can include reduced costs and manual labor, better data protection, and quicker data recovery.

By Christine Eyre

If a disaster were to strike your company today, are you confident you could fully restore all of your data? An effective data-protection strategy is as critical to ensuring business continuity as a property insurance policy, but unfortunately many businesses may be at risk because they are using outdated backup methods. Disasters of all forms destroy corporate data every day, and businesses need to be fully prepared in case of a data-loss event.

Mid-sized businesses—those with 100 to 1,000 employees—face a particularly daunting task in implementing an effective data-protection strategy. These organizations often have remote offices with mission-critical data, yet their IT resources and budgets are limited. Mid-sized businesses are in a unique position because large enterprises have elaborate backup strategies, including mirroring and redundant data centers, and small companies tend to rely on technologies such as ZIP drives and CDs. But these solutions are either too large (and expensive) or too limited for mid-sized businesses. Historically, these companies have relied on nightly tape-based backup procedures to protect their data. Tape is well established, but it's showing its age.

Limitations of tape-based backup

Tape-based backup is less expensive than the more elaborate data-protection methods used by larger enterprises. However, tape-based backup can introduce a number of challenges:

  • Limited data protection—Tape-based backup procedures are normally done at the end of each workday. This 24-hour lag between each backup is unacceptable for some companies, where critical business data is constantly changing. If a data-loss event were to occur at 5 pm, all data created that day could be lost. And in the event of a disaster, IT administrators may need to retrieve off-site tapes, which can take hours, or even days, to restore corporate servers to the previous night's state.
  • User maintenance—With tape-based backup, users may need to manually switch out tapes and arrange for off-site transport. They also have to purchase the tapes, catalog them, stay on top of software and driver updates, and check error logs. This can be a strain on mid-sized businesses that typically have lean IT staffs and limited budgets.
  • Error exposure—Because tape-based backup procedures may require frequent manual intervention and are sometimes performed by non-IT professionals, the risk of error is high. There can be long periods of time in which data is not properly protected. In the event of a "disaster" as mundane as an errant keystroke, several days' worth of data can be irretrievable. Also, some companies do not properly store their tapes off-site, so that in the case of a fire or flood, backed-up data could be destroyed along with a company's servers.
  • Lack of standardization across multiple locations—For mid-sized businesses that span multiple locations, tape-based backup can be particularly challenging, because it is difficult to enforce backup-procedure standardization. While one location may run backups on a daily basis, a second location might execute backups only sporadically. With tape-based backup, IT administrators have limited insight into remote location procedures. They cannot be confident that the backup is being performed on a consistent, reliable basis.
  • Cost—Tape-based backup seems like an inexpensive backup method at first, but costs can add up. Businesses must pay for the tapes, hardware, software, ongoing maintenance, and off-site tape storage contracts. But the greatest costs hit when a company suffers a disaster. Several hours', or even days', worth of data could need to be restored, and if tape-based procedures were not thoroughly tested, data often needs to be restored by an expensive professional recovery firm.

Some mid-sized companies need a backup solution that is more reliable and less cumbersome than tape-based backup. Because of budget and staff constraints, the solution also needs to be cost-effective and must require little-to-zero IT maintenance.

Online backup and recovery is a relatively new solution that backs up server data via a secure Internet connection. It can offer several potential benefits:

  • Enterprise-class data protection—With online backup, companies can have the same level of data protection as large enterprises. Unlike tape-based backup, where information is backed up every 24 hours, or even less frequently, online backup and recovery allows companies to back up data on either a continuous or scheduled basis. Continuous backup can eliminate the "window of vulnerability" inherent in tape-based backup. Not only is data up-to-date, but in the event of a disaster, companies can quickly recover and restore lost data, without having to retrieve off-site tapes.
  • No IT maintenance—With online backup, there are no tapes to switch out or take off-site. Once a software agent is installed on a server, online backup and recovery works on autopilot. With continuous backup, all data changes are automatically transmitted via a secure Internet connection to an off-site location. Backup administrators don't need to perform special functions to keep the service running.
  • Reliability—Because server data is automatically backed up, human intervention can be eliminated, thereby limiting the potential for human error. In the rare case that the connection to the off-site vault is disrupted, the service provider notifies customers and then remedies the problem.
  • Standardization—With online backup and recovery, IT administrators don't need to worry about whether backup at remote locations is being done properly. The process is automatic.
  • Cost-effectiveness—With online backup and recovery, users don't need to pay for tapes, software, hardware, ongoing maintenance, and off-site tape storage contracts. The online backup service is billed as a recurring—typically fixed—fee. Because the online service can be more reliable than tape-based backup, users do not need to pay for data retrieval or spend employee hours recreating data should a disaster occur. The data is easily restored online.

Christine Eyre heads up corporate marketing at LiveVault (www.livevault.com) in Marlborough, MA.

This article was originally published on April 01, 2003