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Hybrid backup for business

Flexible working is here to stay, and backing up has never been more important

Data is the lifeblood of business, and if you don’t keep yours backed up, you’re taking an awful risk. Unfortunately, many companies are relying on ad hoc, untested backup strategies, which leaves plenty of opportunities for things to fall through the cracks.

Without a proper backup system in place, you’re putting your very survival on the line. As always, the best strategy is to keep both on-site and cloud backups: Generally referred to as “hybrid” backup, this approach gives you the best chance of being able to recover the information you need in the event of a disaster. 

Backing up to multiple different destinations may sound complicated, but many backup packages now come with built-in support for hybrid backup, making it easy to set up and manage. 

Store and forward

A combination of on-site and cloud backup makes it easy to follow the “3-2-1” principle, which means retaining three recent copies of your data, backed up to two different types of storage media, with one copy held off-site. It’s an approach designed to give you the best of all possible worlds: Your on-site backups allow you to very quickly recover lost or deleted items, and if for some reason you can’t access your local archive – for example, in case of fire or theft – there’s still a copy stored safely in the cloud.

There’s nothing stopping you from putting together a bespoke hybrid backup solution, but for SMBs an integrated solution is likely to be safer and easier to manage. The four packages here let you manage local and cloud backups from a single console, and cover it all with a single regular subscription.

The only thing left for you to provide is a storage location for your local backups. For obvious reasons, your backups shouldn’t reside on the same server as your critical data: you need a separate storage solution. NAS appliances are the natural choice as they’re affordable and easily expandable to keep up with growing demands.

On that note, cloud storage is normally purchased in gigabyte or terabyte chunks; it’s a good idea to work out in advance how much data you need to protect, so you don’t end up either wasting money on space you don’t need, or having to exclude important items from your backups. Since your requirements are likely to grow over time, it’s also worth checking your options for adding more capacity in the future.

Speed trials

One aspect of online backup that’s easily overlooked is upstream bandwidth. If you have dozens of computers all regularly backing up their data to the cloud, your internet connection could get swamped. 

You don’t necessarily need an ultrafast connection, however. Your cloud backup solution may need to send a very large amount of data up the line while it’s creating the initial backups of protected systems, but after that only new and changed items will be uploaded, which should be far smaller. To further speed things up, most vendors offer vault-seeding services; these involve backing everything up on your premises to removable drives, which are then couriered to the data centre to form the basis of your cloud backup set.

Another thing you should consider is how quickly you need to be able to restore your data in the event of a disaster – a measurement known as your recovery time objective (RTO). If your local and online backup provisions aren’t fast enough to meet your RTOs, you’re setting yourself up for trouble. It might make sense to define more than one RTO, as a host running core Exchange services will have a much shorter RTO than one providing basic file-sharing services. 

Remotely safe

When the pandemic struck, many businesses had to make an abrupt, unplanned switch to homeworking, and it’s understandable if they didn’t have suitable backup processes in place on day one. A year on, though, there’s no excuse: Your backup and recovery strategy needs to go beyond the office network.

Admittedly, on-premises backup systems don’t lend themselves well to homeworking. It’s rarely feasible to put a backup appliance in every home, and asking workers to use a VPN to connect to central storage means an extra management burden, not to mention slow performance.

There are, however, some good cloud-based solutions. The best backup options let you deploy a remote agent to homeworkers’ computers; this then links up with your account, and allows you to manage and back up their systems from the cloud console.

Automatic pilot

The final requirement for secure backups is that you have to ensure that they actually run on a regular basis: a data protection strategy that relies on someone remembering to hit the “backup” button is guaranteed to fail at some point. Look for fully automated solutions, with scheduling features that allow them to run jobs regularly at your preferred times.

As for what these times should be, that depends on your recovery point objective (RPO). Where the RTO is determined by how long you can get by without your critical data, your RPO reflects how much data you can afford to lose – which in turn should tell you how frequently to back up your data. For example, if it would be a catastrophe for you to lose the last four hours of transactions then daily backup jobs won’t be enough.

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Even once your data protection strategy is up and running, don’t think you can set and forget it. You must regularly test it to confirm that all targets are being successfully backed up, that your desired RTOs and RPOs remain achievable and that any unforeseen problems are ironed out before you need to recover from a real disaster.

There’s no escaping the fact that getting your backups in order involves a certain investment of time and money. Compared to the cost of a data disaster, though, it’s an absolute bargain. Read on to find the hybrid backup solution that could well save your business.

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