Today we are going to discuss the dreaded “B “word, backups. Data is probably the single most valuable asset any company can have. It is also the most overlooked and taken for granted throughout the company. Many view the company’s data as merely Word, Excel and PDF files. How many times have all of us mistakenly deleted a file from our computer or even worse, had our computer crash and lose everything on it. The first question somebody will ask is “did you backup your data?” That is when you want to just crawl in a hole because you know they were right, and it is so obvious! These days we all can easily backup our personal data using multiple inexpensive cloud services or even external hard drives.
The data that culminates from entire companies can involve so much more than just individual Office and PDF files. In many cases the data amounts can be very large and measured in several terabytes. In larger companies you might see one or more IT personnel dedicated to only data backup and subsequent restores. The trap you can fall into is thinking that important data can only be in large amounts. One company I had experience with had an old DOS program written specifically for their company. This program was stored in a folder that was less than 3GB in total size, which is less than the typical promotional thumb drives give away these days. This DOS program kept the company billing information for years. After a server crash corrupted the drive where the directory was stored, the IT department found through a series of miscommunication that the directory was not available in the backups. It cost the company thousands of dollars to have the data mined from the corrupted drive by a third party company!
It is important to understand that data is the sum of any company’s intellectual property and is actually beyond value. Data can be anything from the files we discussed earlier to ERP system databases, email server data stores, critical applications and in the case of virtual machines, the servers themselves! Protecting this data can be daunting and even scary.
It was not uncommon for the hardware on a particular server (non-virtualized) to fail causing that server and its data to become unavailable until restore. This process would most likely take the entire day and in some cases several days. This would mean waiting for the new part or entire server to be delivered, the operating system to be reinstalled and settings replicated, and finally restoring the data from backups (not to mention waiting for the backup tapes to be recalled from offsite). Now you can see why IT personnel dreaded this!
The good news is with today’s backup technologies backing up critical data has become easier and more efficient. With the popularity of cloud based computing services like Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Private Cloud providers, backup platforms have evolved to perform faster, cheaper and most importantly more reliable. Backup platforms can still backup the traditional “bare metal” servers that many company’s still use. Typically, these servers are backed up using tape technologies and stored off site by third party vendors. Other platforms now use software that can backup entire virtual servers and store these on hard disk. This means that the nightmare described earlier where the corrupted server that could not be accessed for days can now be restored in hours or less depending on how large the dataset is. These backup files can be copied to disk at other company locations to meet off site requirements.
Cloud services like Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Private Cloud providers are even using new storage technologies like hardware storage snapshots to enhance and even replace the need for traditional backup platforms. These technologies made the life of IT personnel much easier not to mention protecting the extremely valuable company data.