Backup Here, Backup There, Backup Everywhere

Two new backup options and an old favorite improves

Nag, nag, nag is what I feel like sometimes when talking about backups, but I'm compelled to help people in spite of themselves. The bottom line is simple: lose data, lose dollars. When you talk about some type of disaster, such as fire or theft of your computer hardware, the survival rate for stricken companies without disaster recovery tools and good backups drops into the “hope and prayer” realm of IT management. So lets talk about ways to insulate your company from disaster by playing like the Boy Scouts and being prepared.

The best “no worries” backup option I've seen over the past several years remains the File Engine. A triple-play combination of local file server, local file backup and remote files backup, a FileSafe appliance from File Engine covers all the backup bases and scores easily (do you smell baseball playoffs, too?).

A FileSafe appliance protects your data files three ways. First, it gets files off local client machines and stores them centrally on the FileSafe server. Trusting users to protect their data files leads to disappointment, which is why moving local files to a FileSafe moves the data one step away from clumsy users.

Second, when a user accidentally deletes or mangles a file, the FileSafe acts like a network-based Recycle Bin. Fourteen days worth of file copies, stored on a secure part of the FileSafe disk drive array, make restores fast and easy. Everyone's files are there, and can be recovered by the users or administrators. No users can change or delete any of the saved files, but they can recover them. And isn't that what users want? They don't care about file backup, but they love file recovery.

Finally, all the files are stored remotely from each FileSafe by the File Engine offsite backup service. If you're paranoid about “the cloud” having your files, I say two things. First, get over your paranoia, and second, your files just go to File Engine and nowhere else. Until you relax and become less paranoid, a FileSafe appliance copies your files not to the cloud, but to the company’s data center in Indianapolis. Prices start at $8 a day, or $235 per month, and go up depending on storage and backup volumes.

But the File Engine folks have been busy making the newly tagged FileSafe appliance more useful for more companies. Approved by the Indiana State Bar for file storage, FileSafe also supports the Needles case management software for law offices. In one box, lawyers can get their business software as well as file security, backup, and compliance with regulatory requirements to protect customer data. The standard FileSafe can support Needles at no extra hardware or backup cost.

More interestingly, the FileSafe tower has a new little sibling the size of a hardback book that plays the role of dedicated server for QuickBooks Enterprise. It doesn't act as a local file server for general users, but does save all QuickBooks Enterprise files back to FileSafe's data center automatically. Stepping up to QBE usually means paying thousands for a Windows server and client licenses, but for around $100 per month plus or minus depending on association discounts and configuration, the smaller FileSafe hosts and protects your QuickBooks Enterprise data. Just like it's big brother, it's remotely monitored and managed 24x7 by File Engine. In case of some type of disaster, the company says it can replace the hardware and all your data overnight. Isn't that better than the disaster recovery option you have now? You know, the one you're going to get to soon?

Another hardware backup appliance takes a slightly different approach. 3X Systems <> lets you create your own remote backup data center. Buy the company’s box, put it on your network, and copy your files locally. Then carry the box offsite and connect it to the Internet. You can take it to your home, another business location, or your Internet Service Provider or Web host company. Once installed remotely, the system connects back to your office by linking through the 3X relay system, and backs up only the parts of files that change. Whenever you specify, like every night, the changed files are backed up to the remote hardware, either a desktop cube or a 1U rack mounted server.

You buy the 3X backup appliance, rather than pay for it by the month like the FileSafe servers. Depending on backup disk capacity and model, prices range from $2,495 to $7,995. If you're cloud paranoid to the extreme, you can backup your data remotely to a hardware device you control. Perhaps the Paranoids of America Club (that's a joke, not a conspiracy warning) could endorse 3X, but they never trust anyone enough to endorse anything (another joke).

Those who trust not only the cloud for backup but also their fellow business owners should check out a new twist on remote backup from Symform. Every business has extra server disk space, and every business needs to backup offsite. Symform put those two needs together and developed a way to backup your data by spreading it across other members of the Symform customer base. If it was still the Cold War, we might call this Communist. Now we should probably call it green and environmental and new-agey, because it's the Symform Cooperative Storage Cloud. No, they're not in San Francisco, but Seattle, formed by some former Microsoft folks.

You get as much offsite storage space for your backups as you set aside to store other Symform customer's data on your network. Using RAID 96 (most servers use only RAID 5 to spread redundant data around to protect against hardware failure), each gigabyte of data you send to Symform is encrypted then spread across 96 other Symform customers in small, non-identifiable data blocks. It would take years to break the 256bit data encryption after someone gathered 64 copies of each of your data blocks from across the Symform user base, so even paranoids should feel secure. They won't, but they should.

Sold via resellers who help you set up the sharing space and other configuration details, Symform has a street price of plus or minus $50 per month. There are no extra charges for the amount of data, so that price stays level no matter how much you backup. The only “cost” is making that same amount of space available on your own system to be part of the offsite data storage sharing environment. Don't you feel green?

I won't nag you about backup again, so please pay attention this time. With the wealth of local and offsite backup storage options, including these three and hundreds more, you have no excuse not to backup your data. Remember, when you lose data, you lose dollars. Keep both safe, please.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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