We recommend using external USB hard drives as an alternative (or supplement, if you have a tape backup) to tape backups.
We recommend using Acronis imaging software combined with the ability to restore to different hardware. This can dramatically reduce your risk of a long recovery process if a server fails or is damaged.
We recommend using StoreGrid offsite backup as an alternative to carrying data offsite.
Server -> Nightly Image Backup using Image to External USB Drive -> Copy offsite
-> Nightly windows backup to External USB drive (for local file restore)
External USB Drives:
You can buy an external drive and enclosure which will hold 1.5 TB (1500 GB) of data for about $200. An equal amount of tape storage would cost over $1200. Tapes are more prone to error, slower, and often are not rotated when they should be. Two external drives, 1 rotated offsite, are still much less expensive than tape backup software, drive and tapes.
Higher internet bandwidth and better software now make offsite backups more practical. In the past, an offsite backup solution would cost $100 to $150 per month. We now have a solution which is under $400/year, or about $1 per day. It is called StoreGrid backup, from Vembu software. We have licensed the product, and (as always) are offering it to our clients at our cost plus the labor involved to set it up and maintain it. Although it still needs to be checked, the process is completely automatic, and does not require the time and attention to swapping tapes or external drives. By keeping the backup offsite at our office, we are able to carry the data back to you without waiting for a long download to restore. The data is encrypted before it leaves your server, so it is at least as secure as your server. In addition, for those that wish it, we can replicate the backup data from our office to the Amazon data center. This provides a backup copy out of the area in a secure and extremely reliable storage facility.
If your server fails, you need to purchase a new one. Since they are not available locally, it takes a minimum of 5-7 days to arrive. Several of our clients have had parts go bad in a way that requires a complete reinstall of the server, after it is repaired.
Usually, if a server fails, the recovery sequence is:
- Repair or replace the server
- Re-install the operating system. (Must be identical software, on identical hardware.)
- Reconfigure any hardware, drivers etc. to get it minimally working.
- Install the backup software
- Restore from backup
- Test; fix any remaining issues caused by going to a previous point in time with the system. At best, this is a 12 to 15 hour process, with typical down time being 2 days to a week. This has happened to a number of our clients, and we would like to prevent it if possible.
Imaging software can save significant down time in a crisis, in 3 ways:
- A full image of the system can simply be restored back to the repaired system. It usually takes an hour or two once the server is working.
- Imaging software now has the capability to restore to different hardware. This could be a new server.
- The image can also be restored to a “virtual server”. This can be a beefed up PC running virtual server software. This allows you to either use an office computer, or go down to the store and buy one, and be back up by the next day. It may run slowly, but you have access to all the server functionality till you replacement hardware arrives.
Acronis True Image and Veritas Bare metal restore are the current market leaders. We recommend Acronis based on price and features. It also has Exchange and SQL agents, which make it fully functional as an alternative to traditional backup software. You can restore individual files or components of the system, schedule full and differential “image” backups, just as you would with backup software. Cost is about $800 for the Imaging software, and $600 to $800 for the agents. In comparison, Veritas Backup Exec is about $800 and $5-600 for each agent.
We recommend imaging to an external hard drive, and separately using the windows native backup to an external drive for redundancy. A recent copy of the image should be kept offsite.
It is essential to have good documentation, and keep key information offsite.
If we have not reviewed your backup /disaster recovery plan recently, we can sit down and work out the best balance of cost and recovery time for your situation. Backup planning should be reviewed regularly, to accommodate changes in your system and new software installed.
In particular, make sure any SQL databases are being backed up. These are often installed as a part of accounting or other software, and don’t automatically get backed up as the file is always in use by the system.