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Backups. Out of sight, out of mind?

In etc / By Adam Wright / 19 June 2016

Most people don’t really think about backups.

Until things go wrong and Nick from accounts deletes the payroll database on payday. An angry mob has quickly formed in the car park after they get wind the backups have been failing. Sadly, Nick never makes it to his car.

However, with proper planning and the correct procedures in place, Nick could have had things back up and running before the mob had time to sharpen their pitchforks or set fire to his car.

On the surface, backing up is a very simple concept. You have more than one copy of something should the main one fail.

But where do you put it? How do you keep it up to date? What if your latest backup has a problem?

No system is infallible, the aim is to minimise the risk. The main areas to look at are:

Location: Where will I store my backups?

Capacity: How much am I backing up? How much will
I need for growth?

Frequency: How often should I back up?

Retention: Do I really need to keep the backup for 5 years?

Method: How should I backup? For Business and Enterprise level backups there is a lot to consider and plan.

Location: This is where my backups are going. At Nasstar we use Near Line storage drives to store the initial backups.

Near Line drives generally have larger capacities and slower speeds than production servers, as the requirements of backups do not warrant the higher performance.

But what would happen if the backup servers failed or a meteor landed on the Datacenter?

This is where the more literal “location” applies. By using tapes it enables the removal of your backups to a secure off site premises.

We use LTO tapes, currently at generation 7, to create a remote storage pool. If you’re thinking “Tapes? As in VHS tapes?” you’re not too far off. They use a spool of magnetic tape in a cartridge to write data to. Once off to tape, you have a no overhead copy of your data, which if stored correctly, can last up to 30 years.

Capacity: At we have disk backups of close to 300 Terabytes of data. (That's close to 500,000 CDs. Or 220 million floppy disks, which if laid side by side would circle the Earth 1.25 times!)

This is growing on a daily basis, so planning for growth is a big part of any serious backup solution for businesses.

But capacity also ties in with...

Frequency: Do you really need to backup the same file 10 times a day? Probably not.

Do you need to keep taking log backups of your SQL database every hour? Possibly.

Frequency is in part determined by the type of data being backed up, the impact that taking the backup may cause (for example, load on the backup object reducing live performance) and the accepted risk of losing a window of data.

For the vast majority of items, a daily backup is adequate and accepted once all other factors are taken into account.

With frequency also comes the question of “When?” Starting a backup in the middle of the day, on a system a few hundred people use, is not the best idea.

So scheduling backups for when the load and usage is at its lowest point is a good place to start. Frequency of backups is influenced by a number of factors and at Nasstar it is tailored to meet our users needs.

Retention: How long do you need to keep your backups? Many companies have a legal need to retain data for years. Some, the data is always changing so they would never need to go back more than a day or two.

Method: Now that you’ve figured out what you are backing up, where you are sending it to and have an idea of how often you want to backup, you need to work out how you are going to do this.

For the individual user, a simple copy to a USB drive might be all you need.

There’s no point in using a fancy backup program to do that. Power users may consider using a backup script to copy changed data to an external device.

But when you have multiple Terabytes of data, you soon find getting the office apprentice to copy and paste files from one place to another isn’t really going to do the job.

When there is such a vast array of products out there, how do you select the one you need?

With Nasstar we quickly realised that one backup solution would not meet the requirements of our users backup needs.

That’s why we currently use FOUR different products, allowing us the flexibility, scale, and the ability to protect the integrity of data as well as rapidly restore service, should anything happen.

These cover all of the data types we need protecting, allowing for each system and data type we have, and the requirements of our users.

To meet our users business demands and changing technology, are constantly reviewing, testing and updating our practices and procedures for Disaster Recovery, with backups very much at the front of our strategies and minds.

While backups shouldn’t be on our users minds, it is always on ours.

Adam Wright

Adam Wright

Infrastructure Engineer and Backup Administrator at Nasstar. Hockey player and coach for Bridgnorth HC.

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