Tape-Based Backup: Leaving Data Vulnerable
A recent survey by the University of Texas Center for Research on Information Systems indicates that nearly half of businesses suffering data loss in a disaster never recover sufficiently to resume business. It is for this reason that an effective data protection plan is imperative for companies of all sizes. Historically, mid-sized companies have relied on tape-based backup to protect their data.
Compared with more elaborate storage methods used by larger enterprises (including mirroring and redundant data centers), tape-based backup is relatively inexpensive.
However, tape-based back-up procedures typically introduce a range of challenges:
• Limited data protection. Tape-based back-up procedures are normally done at the end of each workday. This 24-hour lag between each backup creates a “window of vulnerability” – meaning that a day’s worth of data is not protected until the back-up process is complete. This level of backup is unacceptable in our information-intensive society, where critical business data is constantly changing. If a data-loss event were to occur at 5 p.m. on a workday, all electronic data created that day – including important documents, e-mail and customer data – would be lost. In the event of a disaster, businesses also need to retrieve off-site tapes. It can take hours, or even days, to restore a corporate server to its previous night’s state.
• Heavy user-maintenance. With tape-based backup, users 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 important software and driver updates, and check error logs. This can be a strain on mid-sized businesses that typically have lean IT staffing and limited budgets.
• Error exposure. Because tape-based back-up procedures require frequent manual intervention and are often performed by non-IT professionals, the risk of error is high. In fact, Gartner Group estimates that more than 40 percent of all data is not backed up properly each night. This means that there can be long periods of time – as much as several days – 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, many businesses do not properly store their tapes off-site, but instead, leave them on premises – so that in a fire or flood, backed-up information could be destroyed along with a business’ servers.
• No standardization across multiple locations. For mid-sized businesses that span multiple locations, tape-based backup can be particularly challenging. It is difficult to enforce backup procedure standardization. While one location may run backup on a daily basis, a second location might execute their backups only sporadically. With tape-based backup, IT administrators have limited insight into the rigor and integrity of 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 the costs 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 business 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. A data loss can also mean impaired company reputation, lost employee productivity and ultimately, lost customers and revenue.
Online Backup and Recovery: A Reliable Alternative
Mid-sized enterprises need a backup solution that is both more reliable and less cumbersome than tape-based backup. Because of budget and staff constraints, the solution also needs to be cost-effective and require little-to-zero IT maintenance.
Online backup and recovery is a relatively new solution that backs server data up via a secure Internet connection. It offers mid-market companies several benefits:
• Enterprise-class data protection. With online backup, mid-sized enterprises have access to the same high level of data protection that large enterprises enjoy. Unlike tape-based backup, where information is backed up every 24 hours, or even less frequently, online backup and recovery options exist to back up information 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 immediately recover and restore lost data, without having to worry about retrieving off-site tapes.
• No IT maintenance. There are no tapes to switch out or bring off-site. Once the agent is installed on a server, online backup and recovery just works on autopilot. With continuous backup, all data changes are automatically transmitted via a secure Internet connection to an off-site location. Back-up administrators don’t need to perform special functions to keep the service running. Online backup and recovery takes away the burden of backup and lets IT professionals focus on other important areas.
• Reliability. Because server data is automatically backed up, human intervention is eliminated, thereby limiting the potential for human error. In the rare case that the connection to the off-site vault is disrupted, a fully managed service provider will be able notify its customers of the outage, taking proactive steps to remedy 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. Certain online solutions even enable a company’s back-up status to be monitored via a Web browser.
• 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 service is billed as a recurring – typically fixed – fee. Because the service is much more reliable than tape-based backup, should a disaster occur, users do not need to pay for data retrieval or spend employee hours recreating data. The data is easily restored online.
For these reasons, mid-sized enterprises need to re-think the way they do backup and strongly consider the benefits of online backup and recovery. Tape-based backup may be the “traditional” way to protect their data, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that there is a new and better way for mid-sized businesses to ensure business continuity, while effectively managing costs.
Robert Cramer is president and CEO of LiveVault, a provider of online service for backup and recovery of business server data. He has extensive executive management experience in fast-growth environments. Most recently, Cramer was president and CEO of FirstSense Software, Inc., a category-leading application performance management vendor that merged with Concord Communications.