New Year's Resolution 4: Backup, backup, backup

Two-tier local and Internet backup cheaper and easier today.

The last of our resolution reminders this year is backup, because that's too often when people think of backup: at the end of the planning process. I understand, because thinking about backup makes you realize how fragile and fleeting our data can be, a distressing thought. But every dollar spent on data backup returns tenfold in peace of mind while protecting your business. After all, if you don't have your data, you don't have your business.

New Year's Resolution: Collaborate or else

New Year's Resolution 2: Better sales compensation management

New Year's Resolution 3: Improve your e-mail

Back in May of 2007 I outlined my Pirate Backup System. Not “Pirate” as in software theft, but as in Pirate speak -- “ARR,” what I've since extended to “AARRGH.” Let me explain quickly.

A is for Automatic, which every backup must be. A is for Archive, because your backup system must be more than just copied files. R is for Redundant, because you have to store your data in two or more place. R is for Restorable, meaning you test your restore process now and then. G is for Generations, because you sometimes need copies of different versions of files as they change. H is for Happiness, the feeling you get when you easily and quickly restore a lost or mangled file.

Boiled down to a sound bite, your backups must be automatic and stored in at least two places far apart from each other. If you ain't got these, you ain't got backup.

Yes, I get e-mails from folks thrilled their new USB hard drive includes automatic backup software and a 1TB disk. That's good, but only half the minimum requirements for a smart backup process. USB drives stay attached to the computers (often laptops) all the time so the automatic backup software works constantly. That means when you lose your laptop bag, you lose the USB hard drive you carry in the bag. If your office sprinkler goes off by accident and drenches your computer, your USB hard drive drowns as well.

The ease of storing backup files “in the cloud” increases daily. While I appreciate cloud-only offerings like Carbonite and Mozy, you can't do fast bare metal restores to replace crashed systems over the Internet. Local disk images perform server and personal computer restorations in two hours rather than the two days it takes to reload your operating system, your applications, and then your data from remote storage. That's why I only accept a mixture of local and offsite backup in the Pirate Backup System.

I want to mention some of the new options you have, but let me start by reminding you of one my favorite backup appliances, FileEngine. Unlike any other system I know of, FileEngine addresses three functions: local file server, local backup appliance, and managed link to remote backup storage. If your boss is too cheap to spring for a good backup system, perhaps getting three technologies in one red server box will relax the purse strings. Pricing starts at a dollar an hour for the combo local file server, local backup and remote backup service. It's hard to find one of these features starting at $235 per month, much less three critical business services.

As I said, I don't know of any other combination appliance like this available today. If you have, let me know. I hear some service providers and network-attached storage vendors are starting to work together, but I haven't tested any besides the FileEngine.

A new company working a mixed appliance and offsite model is 3X Systems. It is taking a different approach and marketing through ISPs and MSPs only, and the appliance stays at the service provider, not the customer. You may be getting sales pitches from your service provider to back up to a 3X system appliance and not even know it. While service providers have the technology to make their own backup appliances, 3X hopes its prebuilt systems will offer enough features and polish that service providers will buy a packaged solution. 3X also mentioned that it will soon have a smaller system that companies can install and host themselves, so keep an eye out.

Behind the scenes, huge infrastructure providers like Amazon with its S3 storage service is making it much easier for online backup companies to get started. Relying on a back-end provider like Amazon, while building your own software and creating your own sales process, lowers the barrier to entry quite a bit. So if some backup service you never heard of promises amazing back-end engineering and stability, that could mean Amazon is back there somewhere.

Enterprises have been using various offsite backup services for years. Unfortunately for smaller companies, the prices have been high. But some companies are getting smarter and repackaging enterprise quality backup services for small businesses. Cutting down the complexity and options cuts down the price, so a small business can afford an enterprise offsite storage solution.

One large player in enterprise offsite storage, StoragePipe, announced its own Small Business Service not long ago. It offers a variety of service beyond basic backup, so prices vary. Expect to pay a few dollars per storage gigabyte, with optional services adding to that cost. But if you need backup and e-mail archiving and business continuity services, StoragePipe claims to be your one stop shop, but so do many of its competitors.

With the number or backup options you have today, leaving your data “naked” and vulnerable is no longer acceptable. Yeah, data safety is boring, like car insurance. But when you need to recover from a wreck, either data or driving, you need that insurance. Those who think insurance is expensive change their minds when they have to pay for a data disaster themselves. Don't learn that lesson the hard way.

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