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An Executive’s Guide to Data Backup and Creating a Disaster Recovery Plan

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As a senior executive, you may be debating the benefits of data backup and having a proper disaster recovery plan in place. But perhaps your inquiries to IT are answered in an acronym-laden language that occasionally gets cumbersome. As a CEO or CFO, you have bigger concerns than fluency in the language of a lone department. Your time is tight and your responsibilities many. You need it short and simple.

In this two-part series, we’ll talk about some of the components of disaster recovery (DR). We’ll start with why backup is an essential part of DR but not a synonym for it. We will also discuss why, for many companies, backup is no longer sufficient.

What is data backup?

Data backup up is making a copy of your data files. It is a scheduled event, performed in most cases once or twice a day, recording all changes to your data. The backup is often made onto physical hard drive, disk or to a virtual tape library (VTL) that is kept offsite. Backup serves multiple purposes:

  • To retrieve the lost or damaged critical data without interrupting company workflow
  • Rebuilding the server in its entirety during disaster recovery
  • Adhering to critical compliance requirements

IT departments use backup quite frequently. Primarily, they use it to restore individual files and/or applications when they are lost, either due to human error or an application crashing. Backup allows you to retrieve those files without declaring a major event that would interrupt your company’s workflow.

Only a few years ago, backup also constituted the sum total of IT DR planning because it was all that was available. Financial losses while servers were down were an unfortunate, but somewhat manageable result as most business was conducted in person. That paradigm has shifted. For many mid-sized businesses a large percentage of their transactions now take place online. As a result, lengthy downtime can produce catastrophic financial losses.

The limitations of data backup

Relying only on data backup is similar to using a shovel to dig the foundation of a house. Both are possible, but the methods are slow and time-consuming. Depending on the amount of data, size of bandwidth and the performance of the disk, a lone backup may take an hour or, in some cases, more than 24 hours. Restoring that much data during a disaster will be a painfully slow process.

Additional factors also need to be considered in deciding whether backup is sufficient to restore your business in a timely fashion.

  • If you have strict compliance requirements and don’t restore data as quickly as required, your company may pay penalties.
  • Hurrying the data restoration process often results in coding errors, which can result in further downtime.
  • The rest of your workforce will be in limbo, unable to work while the data is restored.
  • Customers can become frustrated, lose confidence in your company and possibly go elsewhere if they are unable to get online access for purchases, support, services or information.

Depending on your objectives, restoring your company’s data from disks, let alone tape, after a catastrophic event may take so long that it costs your company far more money than investing in a more comprehensive plan that could have your critical production up and running in a matter of hours.

How much data backup is enough?

Recovery requirements are measured by the following metrics:

  • Recovery Point Objective (RPO) – the age of the data you want the ability to restore in the event of a business interruption.  This answers the question “How much data can you lose?”
  • Recovery Time Objective (RTO) – the time needed to recover from a business interruption.  This answers the question “How long can this application/function be down?”

A general rule of thumb is if your company can afford for your servers to be down for 24 hours or more, you’re probably fine with a backup solution strategy. But if your company’s window is narrower than that, you may need to consider additional measures. If your window is narrower than 4 hours, you’ll definitely want to consider replication solutions in addition to backup, as well as investigate the ROI of a disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS) solution.

The DRaaS Option

An alternative to relying solely on backup is to go with a Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS) provider to ensure your business needs are met.  DRaaS works much like insurance. You hope you don’t have to ever use it. But if you ever have a catastrophic event at your company and your servers go down, you are covered. Your business will quickly be up and running in the cloud. You know this, because it’s a disaster strategy designed specifically for you, rehearsed with you, and it is routinely tested for problems. You make your declaration and failover to the cloud where:

  • Mission critical production restored in a matter of hours
  • Your staff and customers can keep doing business throughout the DR process
  • Backups help restore the entirety of your data with minimal data losses

Once recovery is complete, your DRaaS provider will assist you in failing back to production.

Conclusion:

Your Disaster Recovery plan should never be a foreign language, and to that point, data backup and DR no longer translate into one and the same thing. Data backup is a component of DR, but DR uses far more tools, and more modern tools.  It also includes having a disaster recovery plan and testing your strategy regularly, to ensure you have continuous and comprehensive data protection, rapid recovery times in the event of disaster, all in an environment that supports your compliance needs.

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