All You Need to Know About Data Recovery and Computer Backups

“Computer backups are important.”  This is so obvious and well known that it’s almost not worth writing.  But I would like to shift the conversation here, because data recovery is actually what you should be worried about.

The question people are always asking is, “How should I be backing up my data?”  This is misguided.  The question they should be asking is: “If I need to restore my data, how will it work out?”  No one, aside from us techies, cares about data backups and the intricacies of how it all works.  Everyone cares about how difficult it will get to restore their data once they need it.  We will continue to use the term “backups,” but keep in mind that it is the data recovery you really care about.

The three things you need to know about backups are

1. What is the backup type, and how will that affect my restores?
2. Where is the backup stored, and how will that affect my restores?
3. What sort of data loss are you planning for?

Backup Types

There are two methods of backing up data today; each has its advantages and disadvantages:

  1. File based data backups – File recovery is what comes to mind when most people think about backups.  When a file is created or modified, that whole file is backed up.  Storing these files tends to take up less room than image based backups.  It is easier to see the files that are backed up, and usually easier to restore them.  This cannot backup the operating system or any programs – only data. If you would store something in your My Documents folder, this will back it up.
  2. Image based data backups – In this case, the word image is not a synonym for a picture or visual image, so forget that analogy.  Instead of backing up individual files, this backup method takes a snapshot of the entire computer all at once.  This takes up much more space than file-based backups, but subsequent backups are much smaller.  The initial backup would be the size of the whole computer.  After that, if you changed one letter in a Word document, it would only need to back up that single letter and its location on the drive, not the whole file.

How do these differences affect your data recovery?  File-based backups are easier to restore for non-technicians.  Files-based backups may be faster to restore, and they are often less expensive.

Image-based backups allow you to restore the entire system, exactly as it was at the time of the backup.  With a file-based restore, you would need to reinstall Windows, then all of the programs, then restore the files that were backed up.  This makes image-based backups superior for computer Disaster Recovery.

Backup Storage For Disasters and Data Recovery

Where your backups are stored can matter a great deal for your Time To Data Recovery, as well as your resiliency against disaster.  Here are your options for location of backup storage:

  1. In the office – Restores will be fastest if the backups are stored onsite in the office.  However, your backups will likely suffer the same fate as your server in the event of a fire or flood so they aren’t very safe here.
  2. Locally but offsite – Storing the backups at an employee’s house provides more protection against disaster.  However, most employees live near the office, and natural disasters that strike the office will likely affect a nearby home as well.  This is great protection against a building fire or sprinkler flood, but not as much for natural disasters.  Time To Restore goes up by the amount of time it takes to drive to the employee’s house and back, but are still quite fast once back in the office.
  3. In the cloud – This is the safest place to store backups because all cloud providers worth their salt will have mirrored data centers in multiple locations across the country.  This protects you against natural disaster. It also makes it easy to restore files to any location, including temporary office space if something happens to yours.  However, this is the slowest method of data restoration.  Downloading 100 GB of data over a would take 24 hours on a 10 Mbps cable internet connection, but only 20 minutes on a fast local network.  If you are shopping for a cloud backup vendor, make sure they will next-day ship you a hard drive with your data on it in the event of an emergency.
  4. Local-Cloud hybrid – This is the best of both worlds.  You back up all of your data to, and restore from, a drive in your office which is is very fast and efficient.  Then that data gets synchronized to the cloud for computer disaster protection and safe storage.

If you are going to store your data backups onsite, also keep in mind your storage media.  Technology changes rapidly and may change while you are still using the old thing.  10 year old hard drives won’t work in today’s computers.  Do you need to keep data for that long?  Magnetic tapes are the best way to guarantee decades of data archiving, but will your new server be able to run that old tape drive?  If you are using a CD/DVD, will they warp in the heat?  Hybrid and cloud solutions bypass this media conundrum nicely.

[box] You don’t care about backing up your data;

you only care about restoring your data.[/box]

File Restore or Disaster Recovery? – When deciding on your backup solution, ask yourself what is the purpose of it?  Backups serve two functions: restoring the occasional lost or overwritten file, and rebuilding everything when an emergency wipes it out. Basic backups are usually sufficient for individuals and home use.  Businesses, however, want to think more along the lines of Disaster Recovery.  If you only care about restoring the odd file every now and then, basic file-based backups in the cloud are sufficient.  If you are preparing for an eventual disaster, file-based backups may be insufficient.

What is your “time to recovery objective”?  How much downtime can your company accept if the sprinklers go off and the server room floods?  If several days of downtime is fine for data recovery, then file-based backups are sufficient and you can go about re-building your server from scratch.  If you need to be back up and running business as usual in hours or one day at most, then you will need image-based backups.

We offer a product to our clients that includes the best of all of these options.  It is a device that sits locally on your network for fast backups and data recovery.  It synchronizes with the cloud for safe storage and protection against disaster.  It does images-based data backups for getting the business back up and running quickly.  And it has the capability of mimicking your server if your server goes down, so you can continue going about business as usual even while your server is laying in a smoking heap in the corner.  Please contact us today if you are interested in learning more.

If you still have questions about backups, please visit our Contact page, or leave a comment below and we’d be happy to respond.

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