Data storage backups seem like a simple enough way of protecting valuable business data against accidental erasure, application crashes, server mishaps, ransomware and the countless other ways data winds up irretrievable. IT leaders soon discover that managing a comprehensive data protection strategy involves much more than pointing a backup solution to a storage target.
It often involves an exhaustive examination of available tools, thorough planning and a data recovery strategy that delivers on all that hard work.
Here's where to start and the critical journey toward effective enterprise backup and recovery management.
One of the most critical choices businesses face is whether to perform full, incremental, differential or synthetic full backups. Settling on one or a combination of the four will depend on an organization's requirements.
Full Backups: These offers the ultimate in data protection by backing up the entirety of a system's files and folders. Everything is stored as part of a set, so keeping track of backups is a pretty straightforward affair. On the downside, this approach often takes a toll on storage and bandwidth, not to mention the time it takes to run a full backup.
Incremental Backups: These contain the files that have been added or changed since the last full or incremental backup. This allows for shorter backup windows and typically requires less storage space since it builds upon an existing backup. One disadvantage of using this method is that it takes longer to restore data from an incremental backup since it requires a full backup and subsequent incremental backups to retrieve the desired data.
Differential backups: Differential and incremental backups may sound similar, but they serve different purposes. Differential backups will contain files that have changed since the last full backup, an approach that saves storage space since only a full backup and the last differential backup is required for restoring data, versus a full backup and multiple incremental backups.
Synthetic backups: Finally, synthetic full backups are typically used in situations with tight backup windows. It takes data from a full backup and incremental backups to create another full backup, blending the benefits of each backup type, namely completeness and lower resource impact, respectively.
Now it's time to create a corporate backup and recovery management plan.
As with any major IT endeavor, there's little hope of getting an effective strategy off the ground without understanding your current IT infrastructure.
Requires more than a basic inventory: A good plan will take into account the role that each system plays during the course of doing business by order of importance, helping IT departments align their resources and budgets accordingly. This typically require consulting with executives and business units outside of the IT department.
Understand your data volumes: Speaking of budgets, having a good grasp of the data volumes involved in backing up data will also have a big impact on how much your organization invests in backup solutions and storage capacity. Organizations must also weigh how often backups occur, which may differ from system to system. Chances are that a critical application server requires more frequent backups than a shared file repository that employees rarely use.
Consider data retention periods. Data storage costs money, and the more of it that exists in an enterprise's IT systems, archival tapes and offsite storage facilities, the tougher it is to manage. In short, keeping data around indefinitely is unrealistic; ideally businesses will shed data as it loses value or is no longer needed.
Compliance is central: But beware, businesses in regulated industries must also adhere to compliance requirements that demand they protect and hang onto data for specified periods of time, in addition to their own requirements. Again, it may be time to consult with other outside the IT organization, including your company's compliance officer.
Once your plan begins to come into focus, it's time to explore the marketplace for vendors that can meet an organization's backup and restore objectives.
Where to start: A good place to start is this list of the Ten Leading Data Backup Products. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, and many organizations will likely end up securing licenses and investing in systems from more than one provider.
Sometimes, it's possible to find one vendor that ticks a lot of boxes for heterogenous IT environments. Acronis is one such vendor.
"Acronis Backup provides protection for on-premises, remote systems, private and public clouds, and mobile devices. It is said to provide a 15-second Recovery Time Objective (RTOs)," wrote Drew Robb in his recent examination of enterprise backup options. "Features include virtual server protection for VMware vSphere, Microsoft Hyper-V, Citrix XenServer, Red Hat Virtualization, Linux KVM, and Oracle VM Server. Replication is provided via VMware vSphere Replication with WAN optimization. It can also backup Oracle databases with disk-imaging backup and bare-metal recovery."
That's a wide net, but other leading backup vendors are similarly adept at handling a variety of backup workloads.
Other products to consider include Arcserve UDP, BackupAssist, HYCU (formerly Comtrade HYCU), Commvault HyperScale, Data Domain Virtual Edition, Data Dynamics StorageX, IBM Cloud Object Storage System, Spectra Logic BlackPearl and Veritas NetBackup.
Consider Cloud Backup and Recovery: Increasingly, enterprises are turning to cloud providers for backup and recovery services as a means of scaling back on costly on-premises backup storage investments and disaster recovery sites.
Azure Backup and Azure Site Recovery is Microsoft's answer to this trend. Both Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Google Cloud Platform also enable cloud backup and restore operations via their respective cloud storage platforms.
And of course, countless MSPs (managed storage providers), ISVs (independent software vendor) and storage vendors offer services and integrations that play well with leading cloud platforms to provide data protection services in the cloud.
Data backups and security go hand in hand.
Must be safeguarded: Of course, backups are an effective way of recovering from ransomware or other cyberattacks that may knock a system out of commission. But backups are more than a security-enhancing necessity, they must be safeguarded themselves.
Packed with data that can represent the contents of an entire server (see full backups earlier in this article), backups themselves make a tempting target for attackers and insider threats. One surefire way of protecting backups is to encrypt them.
Backup and encryption: Luckily, many of the same vendors that provide backup solutions also offer ways to encrypt backup data. Comtrade's HYCU for Nutanix, for example, includes end-to-end software encryption covering iSCSI/ABS, NFS and SMB targets. The option ensures that data stays encrypted on its way from the source to a storage target, and finally at rest.
Veritas supports encryption in its Backup Exec product. It supports both software and hardware encryption, along with two levels of encryption, 128-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) and 256-bit AES.
Understand Objectives and Priorities: Mirroring the juggling act that is an effective backup strategy, choosing one over the other comes down to an organization's objectives and priorities. 256-bit AES uses a longer encryption key, which offers a higher level of protection. 128-bit AES makes up for its shorter encryption key with swifter backup job processing.
Key management: Encrypted backups add another wrinkle to enterprise backup strategies: key management.
Unlike in the physical world, where accessing one's home after losing the keys is a matter of calling a locksmith, in the world of encrypted data, deleting and mismanaging keys means losing the ability to run data recovery operations on a backup. Key management capabilities vary across different platforms, but generally, they help backup storage administrators create and keep a tight lid on their backup encryption keys.
This guide offers a good start in planning and implementing an enterprise backup plan that can help keep your critical business data safe and recoverable when disaster strikes. Below are some hand-picked Enterprise Storage Forum articles that will help move the process along.