1. A dramatic increase in the importance of remote processing. Remote LANs are being used for far more today than simply sharing files. Customer databases, sales transactions, and other important business information is currently stored on LANs instead of at a central location.
2. A loss of discipline in the LAN backup. Some remote LANs are managed locally, but a majority of LANs are largely unmanaged or are managed by non-technical persons.
3. A loss of management control of backups as computing becomes more remote. As a company's network evolves into more remote computing, it becomes increasingly difficult to manage the remote infrastructure.
In response to the changing dynamics of the network infrastructure, IS Managers have a number of options available to back up their data on their remote LANs. These options, along with their benefits and limitations, are explained below.
Local backup of the LAN server is the simplest and probably the most widely used method of backing up remote LANs. This process simply involves backing up the LAN server to tape or other media. This method is quick, easy, and inexpensive but may prove ineffective in the case of an actual disaster for several reasons. First, the backups may not happen as scheduled, or at all, because the backup is left to the local administrator who may have other duties that take priority over performing backups.
Second, even if the server is backed up, the tapes may not make it off site to a safe place. Many LAN servers are backed up to tape only to have the tape put on a shelf in the same room as the server! In the event a serious disaster (fire, flood, etc) occurs and the server is destroyed, chances are the backup will be destroyed as well if it is in the same room or even in the same building. If the tape does make it off site, it usually ends up in the administrator's car, briefcase or home. Anyone who's left a cassette tape in their car or briefcase in extreme heat or cold knows how quickly media can be destroyed when exposed to these elements. If the backup tape is at someone's home and that person is unavailable after a disaster, the backup becomes inaccessible and therefore useless.
Third, in a larger company, with tens or even hundreds of LANs, the management of all of the backups becomes a tremendous task and may be too cumbersome to handle effectively.
Using an off site storage vendor is the method which most large companies use for their centralized backups. This is a highly effective method of storing critical data backups because the media is picked up and returned by a professional organization, stored in a quality facility designed to protect the integrity of the media, and is easily accessible for disaster recovery purposes.
The downside to using this method of backup for Remote LANs is cost because of the low volume of backup tapes at each site. Most off site storage vendors base their pricing on a large number of tapes delivered to one location on a scheduled basis. This helps mitigate the vendor's transportation costs. In the case of remote LANs, the number of backup tapes is small and the pickups and deliveries would not be as frequent. Because of the volume, using an off site storage vendor for LAN backups becomes extremely cost prohibitive. However, if the data is critical, many companies will justify spending the money to ensure that their data is well protected.
The premise behind company internal off site storage is similar to the off site storage vendor method mentioned in the previous section. The difference is that the company manages its own pickup and delivery of backup tapes and manages its own off site storage facility. The benefits are similar to the above method as well in that media is picked up and delivered on a scheduled basis, transported to a storage facility, and stored in a secure, climate controlled vault.
While the benefits are the same as using an external vendor, the costs of maintaining this service are extremely high. The company will not only have to pay for the tape transport, but they will also have to pay for the facility upkeep and associated labor costs.
Backing up remote LANs to a central server over a WAN allows the data to be centralized and then backed up using the off site storage vendor method mentioned above. This method is an extremely disciplined and controlled method that requires little human management. The backup is scheduled and the remote server automatically sends the data over a dedicated line to the main server where it is stored. When the main server is backed up, the remote site data is included in the backup. In the event of a disaster at the remote site, the data can be quickly retrieved from the main server over the WAN.
Cost, however, is a factor in this method. Backing up over the WAN requires secure lines that can provide substantial bandwidth. If bandwidth is shared with other applications on the WAN, there may be insufficient bandwidth to run the backups and restores effectively. In addition to cost, there is a certain level of complexity involved in this method. Major configuration is needed to set up the WAN to transmit, receive, and schedule the backups.
Electronic Vaulting is one of the newer methods of network backup. This method allows a company to electronically transmit their data and/or updates to a remote server through remote storage shadowing or mirroring. This process is similar to backing up over the WAN in that the backups are transmitted over a dedicated line. In the event of a disaster, the data can be recovered from the remote site via a dedicated line.
The drawbacks to this method vary depending on the type of connection that the LAN has to the remote site. If a dedicated connection is used, then the drawback is the cost of leasing the connection. If a shared connection is used, or if the remote site is connected to the LAN via a smaller line, the issue becomes bandwidth speed and recovery time.
This solution uses overnight carriers (Airborne, UPS, FedEx, etc.) to transport media to an off site media storage facility. On a regular schedule, remote sites backup their LANs and ship the media to an off site storage vendor who will store the media in secure, climate controlled vaults. In the event of a disaster the media can either be returned by the overnight carrier by the next morning or can be delivered, within a reasonable distance, by the off site storage vendor. The major benefit is that the entire process is managed and controlled by the off site storage vendor and requires no management on the part of the user. The storage vendor monitors compliance with the backup schedule determined by the IS department and will alert them of any non-compliance. This method of backup gives companies the benefits of a disciplined remote site backup solution at a low cost.
One drawback to this method of backup is that it becomes increasingly less cost effective as the quantity of tapes increases (i.e. more than 20). Additionally, the recovery time is slower than using some of the other methods.
The process of performing regular backups of critical data is well understood and widely practiced. In today's distributed computing environment, this involves not only backing up central computing systems but also all remote sites. When it comes to backing up remote sites, there are many choices that offer different benefits at a range of costs. Each company needs to evaluate the method that works best for their business model and disaster recovery plan. If you have remote sites storing critical data you need to back up those sites! Your business may depend on it!
Ted Gulley is Marketing Communications Manager for Arcus Data Security, the World's largest data security services company. Mr. Gulley has over 5 years of sales and marketing experience in the IT and disaster recovery industries. For more information on protecting your critical data, please visit the Arcus Web page at www.arcusds.com or email Mr. Gulley at firstname.lastname@example.org