Offsite Backup and Disaster Recovery Systems – Sending Data to the Cloud!

Sep 2013

Offsite Backup and Disaster Recovery Systems – Sending Data to the Cloud!

Posted by Zaid Rasid in Cloud Backup

The following is part two of Afinitey's guest post by Douglas G. Hafford, V.P. Consulting servicesafinety

In our previous post, we looked at a few considerations in determining an offsite backup solution. In this post, we’ll address Disaster Recovery and tying it all together.

What is the difference between Offsite Backup and Disaster Recovery?

Certainly a good backup system is part of any disaster recovery plan, whether it is a tape, USB drive, Offsite Backup or a full DR product. However there are systems which allow not only backup and restore once your system is rebuilt, but can also host your network in the event of a significant disaster. In most of the offsite backup solutions we see in the field, a full disaster, meaning that your office is unavailable for some reason, is handled by the backup hosting company sending a large storage device to a NEW site and allow you to use that to restore your data. When you consider a solution like this, keep in mind that realistically, you are about one week away from being back in business. Often this is good enough, but your partners and staff should be aware of this time frame (known as Return to Operation). One week comes about from the following timeline:

  1. 1. Locate a suitable facility that offers power, AC, Internet etc. – 2 days.
  2. 2. Order and receive the necessary hardware to run your system – 2 days.
  3. 3. Restore from the backup device – 1 day.

This IS of course if you are very, very lucky. Imagine a regional disaster where everyone is trying to do the same thing you are! It is entirely possible that it might be two or even three weeks.

A full disaster recovery solution will offer hosting. This means that your servers can be quickly loaded at the hosting facility and accessed remotely (usually via Terminal Services or Citrix) right away. Providers like this can cut your Return to Operation to 48 hours or even less, depending on what you want to spend. Thus, our next evaluation criterion is "Does the system offer hosting in a disaster?

Now the Tricky Part!

Quality Backup and Disaster Recovery systems can take two forms. Image based and File based. Image based backup systems have some nice features however they have one fairly significant problem. A backup “Image” can quickly be restored and handled quite easily by the backup system however, an image can become corrupt. A corrupt image may behave exactly like a good one, but be useless in a disaster. So an image based backup might report that its completing backups, be able to restore a single file or folder without difficulty but when the “stuff” hits the fan, a client can find that they have no restorable image because of corruption that was never detected. These types of backup systems generally recommend testing on a periodic basis, either semi-annually – say twice a year – or annually. However, when we encounter these systems at a potential client site and ask, “How often do you test?” the response is almost uniformly “Test?” Now I don’t want to be too harsh on image based backup. Most of these work just fine and corruption is fairly rare however, there IS a very good reason the vendors want you to test every 6 months and if you have this type of backup, you MUST test. The price of these backup solutions can be higher than stated because generally, the testing has a cost over and above the normal monthly storage based charges.

File based backup systems do not have this issue and can be routinely tested and verified for integrity as part of the normal backup procedure. Since each file is verified as identical at the block level (that’s a real low level, trust me on this!) testing is normally NOT required. Clients may however wish to test things like a failover scenario to ensure that they can be hosted in a disaster. That’s simply thinking ahead, but it’s not about data integrity but rather the supplier’s ability to perform. This brings us to our next evaluation point, "Is the backup system File or Image based?"

What’s next?

All of these solutions are falling in price month by month. At the same time the price of high speed bandwidth to accommodate an offsite backup or disaster recovery solution is also falling. These solutions, once reserved only for larger firms, are becoming more and more accessible for smaller firms with more limited budgets. It is a very good time to contact your trusted advisor and examine some of the offerings that are available now. If you have something in place, it might be time to look around and make sure you have the best available price to performance solution for your firm. At the same time, look at your bandwidth and see if you can improve that as well. Me? I’m looking forward to writing a similar article next year with even better backup solutions!

About Afinety

Since 1987, Afinety has been a leader in IT services for small to medium size businesses. With a focus on law firms, Afinety provides standardized networks that simply work. Other services include hardware and software sales, consultation, cloud based services including disaster recovery, training and support, as well as proactive services that are designed to keep your network running smoothly, without interruptions. For more information, please visit our website at

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