Sorting out small office, home office backup

There are many techniques and technologies for implementing a regular and sound backup regime at a small office or home office (SOHO) and while on the road. But there are also many hazards. Small devices, such as portable disk drives, are exposed to conditions that cause failures far more often than business-class systems, and while portable units are convenient, they sometimes lack security features such as password protection or encryption that could leave your data open to theft.

But with a little investigation, you'll find a number of suitable choices for your SOHO environment that will vastly reduce the chances that important information will be lost because of a single disk drive failure.

There are several approaches to backup. One method is to back up all data for a complete copy to support reformatting a computer from scratch, known as a bare-metal restore. Another approach is to back up only those files that have changed since the previous backup, reducing the amount of data that needs to be copied.

Replication or data mirroring to a remote location is another option for protecting data when connected to a network. A hybrid solution involves synchronization software, such as SoHo Organizer from Chronos LC in Heber City, Utah and CrashPlan from Code 42 Software Inc., in Minneapolis (see "Really cheap PC protection -- just like the pros?"), which captures and caches data on a laptop and then replicates it to some other PC, laptop, server or storage service provider when connected to a network.

Universal Serial Bus 2.0 devices are a popular option for moving and sharing data as well as for quick backups of files while traveling or in place of floppy disks and tapes. Small USB thumb drives based on flash memory with capacities of up to 8GB are available for under US$250. Vendors including Kingston Technology Co. have added encryption along with plug-and-play support for Windows-based computers (see "USB flash drives get to work").

For storage capacity needs beyond thumb drives, small portable storage devices based on 2.5-in. mobile hard disk drives that attach to computers via USB ports or FireWire are a good option. SimpleTech Inc., Polaroid Corp. and other vendors offer pocket drives with anywhere from 40GB to 120GB capacity for $129 to $150. These pocket devices are great when you're traveling and working on large projects where you need to clone or back up for rapid recovery. Portable MP3 players including Apple iPods can also be used as data storage devices, eliminating the need to carry a separate portable drive. The drawback to most of these products is that they can be lost or stolen, and they offer little to no protection for your data.

For SOHO or larger-capacity applications, 3.5-in. external Serial Advanced Technology Attachment (SATA) disk drives with capacities of 500GB are available for around $250; they connect via USB but use an external power source. Many USB devices, particularly larger-capacity devices, come with some form of basic backup or file-synchronization software, password protection and encryption (see "Review: Seagate's push-button 500GB external eSATA hard drive" or "Seagate offers Maxtor OneTouch with 1.5TB").

Network-based backups are becoming more popular; however, suitable network bandwidth or a backup service provider may not always be available. Another challenge for network-based backups is that some broadband networks in remote locations have slower upload speeds than download speeds. The faster download speed will be helpful when you need to recover files; however, slow network-upload speeds can result in backup performance bottlenecks. If you don't know what your network upload and download speeds are, check out the tools at the DSL Reports Web site.

Backups in action

Chris Lawless, a systems engineering contractor at the Defense Acquisition University section of the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), needed a robust, reliable method for protecting data on remote computers, including laptops, instead of sending failed disks to a recovery service. Lawless looked at various vendors' offerings and selected Atempo LiveBackup from Atempo Inc. in Palo Alto, Calif. LiveBackup has enabled the university to back up more than 700 laptops and desktops comprising several terabytes of data over a secure network supporting full bare-metal recovery. Being part of DOD, the university does not allow backup of laptops over nonsecured public networks.

LiveBackup comes in two versions: LiveBackup, which performs everything down to bare-metal restores, and LiveBackup Express, for documents, .pst files, etc. LiveBackup is recommended for small businesses and sells for $75 per host machine. LiveBackup Express is more suited for home use and sells for $39 for each machine license.

Client-to-server communications with LiveBackup is encrypted using RSA RC4 encryption in either 40- or 128-bit strength (using Internet Explorer's built-in libraries), or they can be configured to use Secure Sockets Layer. Data at rest in the LiveBackup server repository can be encrypted with a single serverwide cipher using any Crypto API-compatible cryptography provider installed on the host server, including, but not limited to, RSA RC4, the Triple Data Encryption Standard and the Advanced Encryption Standard.

A side benefit of LiveBackup has been the ability to cache changed files using continuous data protection (CDP) on laptops for later synchronization and backup when attached to the secured network. While the DOD may use LiveBackup for 700 laptops, the technology scales all the way down to just one PC or laptop as well.

Key to making the solution work is LiveBackup's single-instancing (a.k.a. differencing or deduplication) capabilities to back up only files that have changed since the previous backup. Full recovery can be accomplished while reducing the total amount of data sent over the network to 25GB to 30GB per day.

Instead of using network-based backup, Johnny Klemme of K.L. Security Enterprises LLC takes a different approach, using EMC/Dantz Retrospect to perform disk-to-disk backups that get stored in a fireproof safe. Klemme also uses a fireproof and water-resistant storage system from ioSafe to help protect his local data. Fireproof and waterproof storage systems (Figure 1) and vaults can be complementary to off-site and remote backups or as an alternative when there is a lack of adequate network bandwidth to protect data in a timely manner.

If you are interested in local disk-to-disk backup products, look at Acronis True Image 10 Home, as well as products from Intradyn Inc., Yosemite Technologies Inc., CommVault Systems Inc., and Symantec Corp.. For network-based backup, investigate Asigra Inc. and eVault (now part of Seagate LLC ).

Backup media is evolving from being tape-based to being disk-based -- including removable disk drives. Removable hard disk drive products like the Quantum Corp.'s GoVault, Iomega Corp.'s Rev 70 or Imation Corp.'s Odyssey combine the portability of tape with performance of magnetic disk drives for fast restores.

To protect his company's business of producing karate-teaching videos, Joel Ertl of E/B Productions is using disk-to-disk backups. Ertl is also an early user of Imation's new portable removable Odyssey removable disk drive. When Ertl shoots a video, the result is 10GB to 13GB of data per hour that needs to be protected and archived for future editing. For Ertl, CDs don't have enough capacity, and magnetic tapes are too slow and lack immediate sharing capability for his applications and environment. Given effective pricing, Ertl sees removable HDD as having a bright future for data protection, including backups or archiving in the absence of a network backup service.

Some data backup questions to consider include:

-- If using a managed service provider for remote backup, what is your available network bandwidth?

-- Does the backup system provide complete coverage, including bare-metal support?

-- What agents, additional software or servers do you need to implement the backup product on your systems?

-- Can you exclude and include specific files to be backed up or protected?

Don't forget to protect the data on your handheld device or cell phone using vendor-supplied and third-party utilities. When traveling, use a tiered approach: Back up your handheld to your laptop or a USB device, then back up or replicate the changes on your laptop to a network file or backup server when available.

If you already have a good backup regime, look to see how you can improve it to protect more data in a shorter amount of time. If you do not have a regular backup regime, now is the time to start.

Greg Schulz is founder and senior analyst at The StorageIO Group and author of the book Resilient Storage Networks (Digital Press, 2004).

This story, "Sorting out small office, home office backup" was originally published by Computerworld.

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