If you thought local backups to disk or tape were enough to protect your data, recent disastrous events such as Hurricane Katrina should have changed your mind. Backing up to local disk or tape can protect against the accidental destruction of a file but will do nothing to protect you when your facility suffers fire or flooding.
Offsite tape storage offers some additional protection. For years, the standard practice has been to back up to tape daily and then send the tapes across town to a fireproof storage facility. But what happens when a disaster destroys both your offices and the storage facility?
Remote backup provides a better solution. The availability of high-throughput Internet data transmission at a reasonable cost enables you to back up your data to a distant location. You can choose to utilize a remote backup service, or you can back up data to another of your company's facilities.
Remote backup services
If you decide to use a remote backup service, there are many available. Some of the best known are LiveVault, Intronis Technologies and Data Protection Services LLC. If you choose to back up to one of your own company's facilities, you will need to choose a backup software package from a company such as Symantec Corp., Microsoft or EMC Corp.
Choose a backup service if your company has facilities in only one geographical area. If your company has widely dispersed facilities, you can choose to allocate servers in one location to back up data in another.
Use of a backup service can offer advantages even for those companies that could do their own remote backups. Performing your own backups means maintaining knowledgeable IT staff at each site where backups are made.
Backup services are staffed by specialists and operate 24/7, so you can access your data at any time. They continuously monitor operations to ensure that each backup is successfully completed. Many backup service suppliers add extra protection by locating in extremely secure facilities with redundant power and connections to multiple Internet service providers.
Choosing a backup service or software package
Whether you choose to use a service or to perform your own backups, you will need to pick a service or a backup software package that meets your specific requirements.
Your first decision will be based on operating system. In either case, you will need to install software on the systems to be backed up. You must choose a service or backup package that supports the operating systems used in your network.
Most backup service providers support Windows, and some support various Unix and Linux versions. For example, LiveVault, a division of Iron Mountain Inc., supports multiple Windows versions, Sun Solaris, Red Hat Linux and Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Data Protection Services LLC also supports Windows, Solaris and Red Hat Linux, as well as SUSE Linux, Netware, IBM iSeries, AIX and HP-UX.
Similarly, most backup software packages support Windows and some Unix and Linux versions. In addition to Windows, Symantec's NetBackup supports Solaris, HP-UX, AIX, HP Tru64 and SGI Irix Unix, plus Red Hat and SUSE Linux. EMC Networker supports these operating systems plus Macintosh, Netware and OpenVMS.
Next, examine your needs for database and email backup. Many, but not all, services and software packages support backup of popular products such as Oracle and Exchange, but your choices will be narrowed if you need to back up products that are not as widely used.
Services and software packages also differ in their abilities to do continuous backups and to back up open files. Traditionally, backups have been done once a day, usually late at night. Continuous backups capture each version of a file and each database transaction, making it possible to roll back to any point in the day. Products capable of backing up open files can periodically take a "snapshot" of a file while changes are being made.
Remote backups add to the load on your network, but many services and packages capture and transfer only the changes to files. The initial backup will take a very long time, as complete files and databases are transferred, but subsequent backups will be much quicker because only the changes to files must move across the network. Products that use data compression further reduce network load.
As the next hurricane season begins, implementing remote backups -- whether you choose a service or use your own staff -- should move to the top of your priority list. It won't help you recover from a disaster if remote backups remain somewhere on your schedule for future attention.
About the author: David B. Jacobs has more than 20 years of networking industry experience. He has managed leading-edge software development projects and consulted to Fortune 500 companies, as well as software startups.