By Pete Schmitt, CTO, cStor
It’s not uncommon for our clients to use ‘data backup’ and ‘disaster recovery’ interchangeably, but the truth is, there’s a big difference. While both are mission-critical activities today for nearly every business, confusing them is like assuming your cloud storage is going to help you create that PowerPoint presentation you’re giving to upper management next week.
Disaster recovery is the practice of creating a secondary site where your primary applications and systems will failover to in the event of an outage. It’s like having a spare tire for your data center. Data backups, however, are just that, backing up data somewhere safe. But backup software can fail, and backing up without a clear recovery plan is a recipe for disaster. You simply need both, no question about it.
But should you manage backups yourself, or should you get help from an expert and outsource your backups? I get this question all the time, and often times clients believe a managed backup solution will be too difficult to manage, or too expensive to maintain over the long term… or both.
Here’s exactly what I tell them.
First, data is your business, no matter what industry you’re in. Today, all companies rely on data to conduct operations every single day – without it you’re business simply comes to a grinding halt. So ensuring you have a clear backup plan is a no-brainer.
Second, you have to take into careful consideration the kind of compliance and governance rules necessary in your industry and specific business to keep things flowing smoothly, including the data use practices and storage requirements. Some industries have very specific regulatory guidelines, while others not so much. Some applications and users within your firm have different requirements and needs as well – it can get complicated fast.
Third, with data volumes exploding (according to Science Daily, 90% of the world’s data has been created within the last two years), the ongoing costs associated with storing so much data are also exploding. The more we transact, the more data comes, and the more it will keep coming… from everywhere. Storing data beyond a standard 30-day onsite retention requirement can get unwieldy fast, that means it’s important to find ways to free up your storage facility so you can use that storage for more high-value activities, and in many cases, contain or even reduce the associated storage costs.
Fourth, you have to take into consideration the best use of your staff’s time and energy. It is money and expense, after all, so is using your team to manage data backups the best use of their skills and the highest value they could be contributing to the organization? The answer I hear most consistently is “no, it’s really not.”
Fifth, while data backup and disaster recovery aren’t the same, they do go hand in hand. If you’re storing offsite and have a site-wide outage, you can utilize the secondary storage site as your point of recovery. So planning your DR plan in concert with your data backup plan is essential. Initially, you want to determine if you should send all data out to the cloud, over the wire or if your storage provider will give you a seed device to preload data you then ship. From there, you can ‘true-up’ the delta with the storage provider when required.
For offsite backups, there are different pieces of that equation you need to consider, such as bandwidth, the change delta that happens on a daily basis, and how and where the backups will be stored.
So what’s the bottom line: to backup and manage yourself on-premise? Or to outsource data backups?
The best solution we’ve found is to go through a thorough evaluation process of your total business requirements, application, data and user need from a capacity and volume standpoint. Are there top tier data volumes and applications you cannot run without? What’s your RTO (Recovery Time Object) and RPO (Recovery Point Objective)? What are the required storage timelines needed and compliance requirements based on the industry and data types? Are there HIPAA, SOX, PCI and other regulatory issues that have to be part of the plan?
In short, without an expert evaluation process, the likelihood of missing something important, if not downright mission-critical, is extremely high. An expert evaluation process will help you determine everything from A to Z and then some, so you can create a smart plan that leaves nothing to chance. And when it comes to your business, isn’t that the objective?
Make sure whatever expert data backup provider you choose includes the following types of steps in their initial evaluation process as you look at building (or updating) your data backup plan:
- Unique data needs for the business from a capacity and volume standpoint
- Top tier data volumes and applications vs. second, third tier, etc.
- RTO and RPO (note: if you have a low RTO and RPO, then you may require near/real-time replication in addition to a standard full backup solution)
- What are your data recall requirements (e.g. you don’t want to pull 2 terabytes from a cloud provider to on-premise and rehydrate that data, instead your plan should be to spin up a compute workload next to the data only grabbing exactly what you need when you need it.)
- What are the minimum on-premise and off-premise requirements (e.g.
private cloud, managed cloud, backup-as-a-service, etc.)
- Do you need simple backup or a full data classification / discovery / RTO/RPO structure to map data needs to business priorities?
Yes, it’s a lot to work through, and that’s precisely why getting some expert help is often a great next move.
The good news is most clients we see do not need to completely dispose of their current data backup solution. Most backup software providers are now lending themselves to offsite capabilities that include dedupe and compression services. They understand the needs are there and providing a more end-to-end solution for a variety of data backup needs is a more sustainable value proposition in today’s market.
So in the end if you get anything from this, remember a few key points:
- From a cost and usability factor, outsourcing has big advantages given today’s advanced capabilities of mainstream providers.
- Outsourcing your data backups means you can focus more time and energy to your primary business while moving this repetitive yet crucial workload off your hands
- If you engage an expert to handle an evaluation process, you’ll benefit from having a clear, comprehensive data backup and recovery business plan
- If you’re still using tape for backups, remember even this physical storage isn’t guaranteed to save you, and it still requires time, effort and creates new challenges when testing your plan
I’m often astounded how companies big and small are still behind in their data backup and disaster recovery planning process. In this day and age, it’s not IF the next outage is coming… it’s WHEN. If you’re behind on this front, it’s the perfect time to do a reset, so get going sooner vs. later.
As always, reach out to cStor with questions, we’re here to help!