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Spring Journal

Volume 32, Issue 1

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I can recall companies losing an entire day-and-a-half to the Love Bug virus.

Everything shut down; people were once again relying on telephones, fax machines, and good, old-fashioned paper and pen to get work done. Imagine that? With the technology available today, that seems pretty unthinkable. These things happen. They are not so infrequent occurrences that IT managers can say, “That’s once in a blue moon. But I’ve got seven million other things to do this quarter, so I think I’ll put the data backup and disaster recovery plans on the backburner for now.” While it’s great to think long-term and big picture, sometimes you need to think smaller, and plan for the seemingly innocuous occurrences that can cost a company thousands, if not millions, of dollars.
It took a tragic event last September to make us all realize the gravity and importance of implementing a foolproof data backup and disaster recovery plan.

Nothing is ever completely foolproof, though there are far lesser evils to worry about when trying to protect your data than what happened on Sept. 11, 2001.

The Love Bug virus is but one example. These evils are not caused by some outside catastrophe, but are part of the daily routine and culture of any organization. In fact, they stem from the very necessary fabric that makes companies successful – new software implementations, system upgrades, the constant sharing of data and, above all, human beings. Each of these plays a significant part in the everyday workings of an enterprise, and its difficult to keep it all running smoothly and efficiently. Unfortunately, they are also the things you need to worry about most when considering data backup and disaster recovery options.

My boss is fond of saying, “The data backup and recovery industry existed long before Sept. 11.” How true. That date only served to shed a light on what many businesses had always planned on doing but for various reasons never got around to implementing a disaster recovery plan. Surely these same businesses had experienced routine hiccups and loss of data prior to last September, but what would happen if those hiccups became something far more serious?

For example, one of the primary causes of data loss within an organization has nothing to do with natural (or unnatural disasters) or even system failure. It is, simply put, people. How many times have you deleted an e-mail or file that you shouldn’t have? Do you know somebody that has stored so much information on a network that they have crashed a server? These are daily occurrences, and must be heavily weighed when considering the best and most efficient means of data retrieval for your company.

Blade Marketing Communications is a case in point. Blade is a Canadian-based marketing agency that lost 2GB of data when a disk volume was corrupted. A hard drive failure had occurred over the weekend, and when the system administrator arrived with his morning cup of coffee on Monday, he discovered that not only was the primary data gone, so was the backup.

However, it was determined that the cause of the loss was no ordinary system failure. Blade’s IT manager had set a minimum number of backup retentions to be saved, not anticipating that good generations of data would expire over a long weekend of backing up corrupted data. Thus, crucial data was seemingly lost. He did not think ahead; had he done so, the problem could have been avoided. Luckily, through some fast footwork and the virtues of online data backup – a process which involves transferring backups over the Internet and storing them in secure, offsite vaults – the data was successfully restored.
Improper planning is but one example of human error, but there are countless others. E-mail proves to be one of the major culprits. I cannot tell you how many times I have accidentally deleted an e-mail that would prove to be important later on. Normally, getting it back requires quite a bit of hunting on behalf of the IT manager, sometimes requiring a whole mailbox restore. However, there is now technology available, which allows managers to perform message-level restores, and these can be done in minutes. It is an easy fix to a common problem that can cause both loss of productivity and unnecessary headaches.

Human error is perhaps the most common everyday evil, but certainly not the only one. Fred Moore, president of Horizon Information Strategies, recently wrote a white paper titled “Storage Infinite Disruption.” In this paper, Moore refers to a report from StrategicResearch Corp., which lists the primary causes of data loss within companies as follows:

• Hardware system – 44%
• Human error – 32%
• Software – 14%
• Virus – 7%
• Natural disaster – 3%

With the expansion of networks, growth of companies into global organizations, and seemingly unfathomable increases in data and information, the risk of data loss is growing far more exponentially than companies’ ability to plan for it. Each time a new piece of software is introduced into an organization, there are many variables that can play a part in loss of data: the software isn’t installed properly (human error); the software malfunctions (it certainly does happen); etc. Likewise, new files come in from everywhere – branch offices, customer locations, your own co-workers – and who knows if the latest virus software is really so up-to-date? These are all factors that IT managers must consider in their everyday backup and disaster recovery plans.

The Risks Are Clear, So What To Do?

These are the everyday evils; the next step is figuring out what to do in case data loss occurs. Consider a checklist of items that is important to operations. For example, you may be looking for:

• Ease of data transfer – A system that mitigates the amount of work that must be done in order to transfer data to a secure location … but still does its job properly.
• Security – A system that ensures data, even if it is stored off site, is always protected.
• Easy access and fast retrieval – Businesses can no longer afford to take a couple of days to retrieve information. Even a few hours is out of the question. A system that can get the company back up and running within minutes is, obviously, highly preferable.

Traditional backup solutions range from tape-based backup to mirroring. However, online backup is beginning to emerge as the most efficient means of data protection. As previously mentioned, with the online backup and recovery process, data is transported via the Internet to off site vaults which house and store the information until it is needed. When that time comes, IT managers can simply go online and retrieve only the data that they need and have it restored within minutes. They can do this from any location, making it significantly easier to manage data restores in branch offices or while they are on the road.

Through online backup, IT managers can schedule backups to occur whenever they like, so they are not tied down to truck shipment schedules or anything of that nature. There is also no physical movement of tapes involved, thus greatly reducing man-hours that could be better spent on tasks directly related to increasing a business’s bottom line. Interestingly, this also plays into the human error angle. Tapes are much more likely to be lost, misplaced, or even accidentally erased due to employee mistakes. Online backup removes these mistakes from the equation.

It also allows for the backup of only necessary data so the system will only transmit changed blocks found within files following the first complete backup. This ensures just the data which needs to be backed up is backed up. This brand of “delta compression” greatly reduces the time it takes to transmit data and shrinks that all-important backup window.

Another benefit is the ability to get data offsite immediately. As soon as the scheduled backup completes, at whatever time of the day or night, the data is offsite. This simply cannot be done using tape, where a lot of the efforts center around time – time for tapes to be loaded, time for the courier truck to arrive, time for them to get to their secure location. Online backup eliminates these hassles. Time is certainly of the essence when it comes to backup and recovery, and the bottom line is that online backup significantly reduces the time it takes to transfer data. This alone can make a huge difference to a manager strapped for time and resources.

Also, remember data protection is usually classified based on criticality, and the recovery window drives an organization’s protection strategy. Picture it as four different areas of classification: instant recovery, recovery within hours, recovery within days, or even longer. Traditional methods work perfectly well for the latter, but usually have problems dealing with the first three. This is where online backup excels. When a server goes down and data is lost, regardless of the cause, often a company will need to retrieve data quickly in order to maintain productivity. This becomes increasingly easier through online backup because everything can be retrieved over the Internet. The IT manager simply needs to log on and send out a request to the remote vault to retrieve the data and have it transferred back on site within minutes. This can also be done at any time, 24 hours a day, so data is readily available.

Of course, no system will eradicate the everyday evils that pop up now and then. Still, companies must be ready to account for unexpected accidents caused by the tools they use and the people that work with them. What may seem like little mistakes or errors could add up costing an organization a significant amount of money. The best a business can do is plan for these errors, and then execute on those plans with a system that will give them their best shot at being up-and-running quickly and effectively. After all, who knows when the next Love Bug will occur, the next retention schedule not quite long enough, or even the next crucial e-mail deleted – and will you be ready?

Ray Ganong, chief technology officer and vice president of operations for EVault, oversees the direction of the company’s technology, ensuring that EVault maintains its leadership position within the online data backup and disaster recovery industry.