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How to move from broken backups to next-generation bliss

Despite common knowledge of the value of data, many companies still struggle to establish a backup regime which adequately protects their information. Some executives and heads of IT departments are frustrated by and even deeply mistrustful of the official tape-based backup processes, giving rise to a sprawling ad-hoc 'accidental architecture' of duplicate backup procedures. It's an unnecessarily costly and risky situation that allows gaps to appear and severely affects the integrity of data protection, says ContinuitySA - and it shouldn't be allowed to prevail.

"This is a problem which manifests itself in general staff and even executive staff creating their own backups by making copies of important documents on public cloud storage services, external hard drives, flash drives and even their home PCs. Furthermore, it's not uncommon for database administrators to make a complete copy of their database each night in addition to the official tape backup," says Bradley Janse van Rensburg, Chief Technology Officer, ContinuitySA.

The same is true of mail, document management, virtualisation and other administrators. "The end result is a mess of backups and massive growth of data stored on expensive primary storage systems," adds Janse van Rensburg.

Not only is the practice costly, it is also risky, with shortcomings and protection gaps a practical inevitability in the somewhat random approach to backups. When it comes to tape-based backups, there's a further common problem, too.

"Research from EMC reveals that 34% of South African companies are not sending their backups offsite at all, presumably due to the difficulty in working with multiple backup sets and concern for the safety of their data in transit. ContinuitySA's experience is that many corporations and government agencies don't follow this basic procedure, which seriously compromises their ability to recover from the loss or inability to access their facilities," continues Janse van Rensburg.

He says that the quality of tape backups is also often suspect. "We've seen 10%-25% percent of all backup jobs failing before they are even removed offsite. Even when a backup job appears successful, it is very rarely verified."

With the point of a backup being the ability to restore data, failed backups and unverified backups renders the whole process moot.

Janse van Rensburg therefore says it is arguably time to seriously consider giving tape the boot; and in a business environment where CIOs must play an increasingly strategic role, broken backups shouldn't be clamouring for their attention.

"We're finding that more and more companies are looking for fully managed and monitored backup solutions delivered by a specialist service provider, and which don't use tape as the storage medium," he adds. "Traditional tape backups are not only unreliable, they are also extremely difficult to scale. They also do not easily adapt to new technologies which became apparent when IT environments began to be virtualised."

Ideally, such solutions should comprise an onsite 'near line' backup and recovery vault at each major premises, synchronised to a remote recovery site. "Because most restore requests are submitted within 48 hours of a data loss, the onsite facility is very convenient, and as it uses the existing local-area network, backups and restores are very speedy," notes Janse van Rensburg.

The onsite backup vault should be a purpose-built appliance that can scale easily as well as integrate with new technologies. It should be designed to check the integrity of backups, and compress and de-duplicate data.

Moving on to the offsite facility, Janse van Rensburg says it is necessary to ensure good connectivity. "Providing the right kind of bandwidth is essential to ensure that backups can be completed as scheduled and replicated offsite quickly, with full encryption across the whole process. It's also important that the recovery site has the necessary server infrastructure on which to perform the restore, but also to provide workstations for employees in the event of a major disaster," he explains.

For those companies seeking to improve their backup regime, Janse van Rensburg has some further advice. "When selecting your solution provider, make sure that you get user-friendly dashboards and reports to maintain oversight. Meet regularly to ensure that your backup strategy remains aligned with your overall IT and business continuity strategies. But, above all, make sure your backups aren't left to chance," he concludes.



ContinuitySA is Africa's leading provider of business continuity management and related services. The company boasts some of the continent's most highly skilled and qualified business continuity and disaster management experts who help companies, organisations and government departments of all sizes prepare for and deal with all eventualities. These include potential threats, events, incidences and unforeseen or sudden disruptions due to human error or natural events.

ContinuitySA also provides a variety of hosting solutions, ranging from co-located to fully managed virtualised environments, with their primary focus being to ensure its clients are able to address the resilience and recoverability of their IT services. These hosting services are complemented by managed backup and recovery services, virtual server replication and high availability solutions to satisfy any level of continuity requirement.

ContinuitySA operates the largest recovery facilities in southern Africa. It has a number of recovery centres in southern Africa with over 20 000 square metres of recovery facilities in Midrand, Gauteng. Smaller sites have been located in Cape Town, Gaborone, Botswana and Mozambique, and a joint venture has been established in Mauritius.

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