Managing Backups in 2013 - The Cloud comes to the rescue.

cloudbuOne of the most important aspects of any enterprise IT plan is disaster recovery. Simply put, what precautions are you taking should a disaster befall your business? Disasters come in all forms, from natural disasters such as hurricanes to hackers ransoming your data. Most people know that you should always backup your data, but few have the resolve (or time in some instances) to keep up with a backup and restore routine for their critical data. Verifying backups and testing data fidelity is almost more important than backing up the data itself because backups are worthless if the data they contain is corrupt or not being backed up in the first place. I can't tell you how many stories I have heard of large enterprises (and small businesses too) having an elaborate and expensive backup solution in place, but no verification process for data integrity. When disaster strikes, they then find out that the data is not usable, or even worse, that it was never being backed up to begin with. You never want to be in this position, so here is some information that will help you with your disaster recovery initiative.

First off, you need to have a backup solution in place. Typical solutions are backing up to a local hard drive within your network or attached to your machine. Apple's Time Machine backup is a great example of this and a solid option if you own Apple gear. If not, Windows 7 has a built in backup tool that allows you to backup your critical information to a locally attached hard drive. I have not personally tested backing up to a network location, but I would assume it is possible. There are also numerous third party applications, such as CrashPlan (which is also free) which will allow you to backup to multiple locations. As a matter of fact, not only is the CrashPlan application free, it will allow you to backup to local devices (such as a USB attached hard drive) and certain remote locations (like a computer at a friend or relative's house) over the internet. CrashPlan makes their money by selling Cloud backup plans, which we will dive into shortly. Having a backup solution in place, even if it is local only, is better than having nothing at all. Make this the first step in your backup plan and you will be well on your way to a solid disaster recovery implementation.

Having a local backup solution is an excellent start to a comprehensive disaster recovery plan, but you can do a lot more to ensure that your critical data is safe in the event of a disaster. Note: while I am talking about backup and disaster recovery in the context of business, this easily applies to personal data as well. Many things that are stored on the typical home computer are irreplaceable, such as family photos that exist only in digital format. I hate to use natural disasters as examples of why backup and disaster recovery are so important, for obvious reasons, but natural disasters are probably the most likely scenario that most people will encounter in their lives and illustrate perfectly the obstacles you must overcome to safeguard your data. Although "Super-storm Sandy" is more recent, Hurricane Katrina is the best example of a worst case scenario for data loss. Many important legal files (in paper format only) were destroyed when the flood waters submerged courthouses and other storage facilities. Servers in various businesses were also flooded and the data housed on those servers was lost forever. The point of all this is to illustrate that sometimes, local backup is not enough. Many times, having an off-site backup is critical. The further that remote backup location is to your primary data source the better in terms of survive-ability of the data. Large enterprises will often have multiple data centers in different geographic regions for this purpose, but most small businesses and individuals cannot afford these type of solutions. This is where the Cloud comes in the picture.

It should come as no surprise that the Cloud, which has been the great leveler of the business playing field between large enterprise and small businesses, would offer a potential solution to this disaster recovery conundrum. Several companies jumped on the availability of cheap, geographically dispersed storage offered by the likes of Amazon Web Services and developed applications that backup data to Amazon's Simple Storage Service (S3). These applications treat Amazon's S3 storage like a 'Cloud Hard Drive" and backup your critical data securely over the internet to an S3 repository. This data is then spread automatically across several geographic zones to ensure that you have no single point of failure where your data could be lost. Some companies in this space are CrashPlan (mentioned above), Carbonite, Backblaze and Mozy. I have used 3 of these services over the last couple of years and now use CrashPlan for my Cloud backup solution. These services have various pricing plans and options, but they pretty much function in the same manner. A locally installed application (agent) automatically backs up the data you specify to a remote data center, where it sits ready to be restored should you have a disaster.

Sometimes a disaster can be as small as a dropped laptop, where the hard drive crashes and with it, your data is lost. All of the Cloud backup solutions I have used are fairly simple to install, setup and use. Once you have set them up, you really don't need to do anything as they do their job in the background, often when you are away from your computer, or when you are using few resources. As long as there is an internet connection and some down time (resource wise), the applications will backup everything for you without needing your time or attention. In my opinion, this is the best solution because people don't really want to deal with mundane things as backing up their computer. The fact that it is housed in a secure off-site data center also alleviates the concern that a local natural disaster could also destroy your local backups. Lastly, when (notice I didn't use if) you need to restore files due to accidental deletion, hard drive crashes or other disasters, it is as simple as downloading the files from your web browser, or re-installing the application on a new PC and restoring them via the built-in restore option. One thing that almost every Cloud backup vendor got right is the KISS method to backups. They have made it very simple to backup and restore your data.

Have any questions or comments? Please leave them in the comments section below. I check them frequently and will answer as I can.

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