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Remote-office backups made easy

Speed matters

Another important remote backup issue is speed. Specifically, any remote backup planning has to consider how long it takes to do the actual data backup and how long it will take to restore data.

"We found out the hard way that the amount of data being stored matters," says Victor Liu, president at Link High Technologies Inc., a Denville, N.J., reseller specializing in backup technologies. "On a pure Internet solution, more than 50 gigabytes is just not practical." Link High Technologies' Liu says one customer with a large amount of data stored over the Internet took more than four days to do a complete restore.

There are several ways to deal with this. One way is to keep several of the most recent backups on local disk and transmit them to the remote site. Another, which is available from some vendors such as Link High Technologies, is to have the data transferred to USB drives and overnight expressed to the customer needing the restore. With large quantities of data, the difference between reloading from a local disk and reloading over a network can be considerable, even if you take into account the time it takes to ship the disks.

Online backup alternatives

One of the more intriguing backup alternatives for remote sites and smaller offices is cloud-based, or online, backup.

"I wouldn't say it's becoming popular yet," says Eric Burgener, a senior analyst and consultant at Taneja Group, Hopkinton, Mass.,

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"but I think it will over time." Burgener notes that unlike the storage service providers (SSPs) of a few years ago who tried to provide main storage for corporate data, Storage-as-a-Service (SaaS) companies using the Internet "cloud" are concentrating on backing up and archiving data where there are fewer performance constraints.

Many cloud providers, such as Carbonite Inc., are currently targeting individuals and very small businesses. But cloud backup is well suited for remote offices because it can handle dark backups -- automatic backups that don't require manual intervention. If a remote office has a relatively modest amount of data to back up, a cloud service may be a good fit; however, bandwidth may still be an issue. At the least, a broadband connection is required, and consideration should be given to bandwidth requirements for large restores.

Reliability could also be an issue. There have been some well-publicized outages at large cloud providers, but a connection that's performing poorly or not working at all is more likely to be a problem.

10 tips for using cloud backup services

1. Check your bandwidth. You need to know how much data you expect to back up to the cloud service and if your current bandwidth is adequate not just to handle backups in a reasonable time, but for restores.
2. Ensure reliability. A cloud backup service, like any online service, can experience outages. Check on the service's record, noting how many outages they've had and how long they've lasted.
3. Tally the costs. Because services have different fee structures, it's important to know how much data you'll ship to their site, how frequently you'll run backups and how often you expect to restore data. With that information in hand, you'll be able to make accurate cost comparisons.
4. Evaluate access controls. You may want your users to be able to do their own restores, but access to backup data should be controllable to limit unnecessary backups/restores and to protect the data, especially if access from anywhere is allowed.
5. Make sure your data is safe. Ask what measures the service provider takes to safeguard your data. They should have backup data centers and offer encryption for data in flight and at rest. If encryption is an option, get it and make sure it's turned on.
6. Stop and resume. A cloud backup service should allow you to stop a backup in progress and then restart it from the point it was interrupted. Having to rerun an entire backup is costly and time consuming.
7. Big restores. If a disaster strikes and you have to restore your entire backup data set or a large part of it, online transmission will likely be impractical. Find out how the service handles these requirements.
8. Protect desktop and laptop data. If all of your company's user data is stored on servers, you don't have to worry about desktop or laptop PCs. But if you have a mobile workforce or allow local storage, ask if the service provider can also protect the data on those systems.
9. Agents and other software. Many services require an agent to run on the servers you're backing up. Find out if the agent will affect the servers' performance or interfere with other applications, and if they can be managed centrally.
10. Continuous or scheduled backups. Some services can back up your servers and other systems continuously (or nearly), while others do backups on a regular schedule. Make sure your provider offers the types of services that best fit your company's environment.

This was first published in March 2009

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