Disaster Planning I – Backing Up and Restoring Data

Planning for a disaster is something we all know we “should be doing” but few of us are.  This is the first in a series of posts that will provide a starting point for disaster planning and disaster preparation on the technology front.  This post will cover backing up and restoring data.  The next two will be go over replacing equipment and restoring software, and telecommunications and what to do while you’re down.
“We make regular backups, so we’re fine…”

When most people think of disaster preparation for technology, they think backups “We make regular backups, so we’re fine.”  But disaster preparation is much more than simply having a second copy of your data.  Yes, you have backups, but do you know how to take those backups and create a working business from them again?  In as short a time as possible?  The critical question here is: How will I rebuild my company after a disaster?  The answer is to have a full Disaster Recovery Plan in place before anything happens.  Below are some of the things you need to know about data backups and restores as one component of this plan.

Backing Up

Backups are the most obvious aspect of disaster planning.  But there is more to good backups than just plugging in a hard drive and dragging over your My Documents folder.

  • Files to Back Up: Most people will remember the obvious things, like their Quickbooks data and the My Documents folders.  But don’t forget the things you use every day like email, Outlook contacts, and web browser favorites.  Depending on what kind of email you have, it may or may not be backed up with your service provider.  Spend a day writing down everything you save, open, or use, and make sure it is all backed up.
  • Other Data: Your documents and your employees’ regular documents are not all that should be backed up.  Think about your business data that you don’t use regularly.  Vendor contact information, software installation files and serial numbers, paper contracts, hardware warranty information, etc. all should be accessible after a disaster.
  • Backup Storage Location: Consider whether your backups are in the same danger as your data itself.  If you keep your backups on a hard drive on top of your server, they will likely be lost in a flood or fire along with the server.  Even taking a backup drive home may not be enough; if a flood or wildfire hits the office it may well hit your home too.  A recent copy of backups should always be stored offsite, preferably in a different climate environment.  Cloud-based backup solutions are very well suited for backups in this respect.

Call us today for help in designing your own IT Disaster Recovery Plan

Restoring Data

People often forget to consider the restore process when deciding on a backup solution.  There are 3 primary things to consider when restoring data: time to recovery, required equipment, and restoration method.

  • Time to Recovery: Assume you have 1 terabyte of data backed up.  If this data is online and you have restore it all over the internet, it would take 57 days over a T1 line, 7 days over a 12 Mbps DSL line, or 2 days on a 50 Mbps Comcast cable line.  That is if you could get the full bandwidth just for restoring data, and not using it for any actual business. It is faster in most cases to have your backup company mail you a hard drive overnight with your data on it.  Make sure your online backup vendor has the capability to do this.  If you also have your data backed up onsite, it would take a fraction of that of time.
  • Required Equipment: What is required for you to restore you data?  If your data is backed up online, you require a fast internet connection.  If it is on tapes, you require a computer with a tape drive that fits your tapes, and those are hard to find in a local store.  In all cases, you need the same software that backed up that data in order to restore it, as well as computers to restore the data to.  In planning for a disaster, make sure you consider what is required to physically get the data from the backup medium to where you want it.
  • Restoration Method:  What kind of backups did you take?  If you only backed up files, then you will need to set up a computer and reinstall all of the software before restoring any data.  Better yet, if you have install images for your computers, this process goes faster.  Best, if you take the image-based backups, you can write the computer system and recent data all at the same time.

Most backup and restore solutions have advantages and disadvantages to them.  Finding a hybrid backup solution that gives you the best of several worlds is often the best way to go, even if it is a bit more expensive.  If the disaster ever comes, you will be glad you spend the extra money.

Finally, it is critically important that you run test restores regularly, or you won’t know if your backups ever work.  It would be a shame to have a flood hit and then realize that your backups were running every night to a USB drive that someone removed the first week and never replaced.

The best solution, and the one we offer to our clients, is a combination of image-based backups that are stored onsite and replicated in the cloud.  This gives you fast time-to-restore on individual files, fast time-to-restore on entire systems, and a cloud vendor who will ship you a device immediately in case of a disaster.  This solution also includes virtualization, which means you can have a fully functional copy of your server up and running in minutes.  Compare that to the 57 days it would take to download it all from the cloud.

“Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable”

–Dwight Eisenhower

While this is a great place to begin your disaster preparation, please remember that technology is only part of it.  Your IT Disaster Recovery Plan should be a part of your greater Business Continuity Plan that includes planning for temporary business locations; replacing inventory; contacting employees, vendors, and clients; etc.  FEMA has a good website (available here) that will help in developing your plan.

Finally, remember that in a disaster, nothing will go according to plan.  Things will get destroyed that you forgot were essential.  Things will survive that you thought were fragile.  Your whole plan may go south in a handbasket, but you will be in an far better place having done the planning. As Dwight Eisenhower famously said, “Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”