Assessing your environment
Selecting a backup and disaster recovery product requires a number of considerations:
- How complex is your server environment?
- Do you have a virtualized server environment or do you run only physical servers?
- How complex is your network?
- Do you have a highly skilled technical team or is your technical team made up of less experienced technicians?
Understanding your computing and your staffing environment will help you determine the type of backup and disaster recovery product your company requires.
For example, an SMB that has a small technical staff made up of skilled generalists might want to stay away from backup and disaster recovery products that require extensive, hands-on training and continuing education for the technician. Such products, while they might be functional backup or disaster recovery tools, could put an undue strain on IT personnel or force the company to spend extra on ensuring that it always has trained staff. Instead, a more intuitive application with wizards might be more appropriate.
Conversely, an enterprise can select from a plethora of applications. Often the best choice is opting for a layered approach. This is where you have an enterprise-class disaster recovery option for the data center and a less complex, less technical application protecting your remote and branch offices, departmental servers, workstations and laptops.
File- or image-based backup
There is a significant difference between making a backup of files and creating a disaster recovery plan. The most basic difference is what you back up and how you do it. For example, will you be backing up just the current files on a user's desktop system? Will you be storing these files along with other versions of the same files so that you can go back to a point in time to access a specific version of the file? Will you be backing up only data files or do you plan to back up every file on the drive, including system files, configuration files, updates and open Windows files?
Deciding upfront which files you plan to back up will have a direct impact on the type of backup product you select. Some programs are very efficient at backing up data files but are unable to back up open Windows system files. Applications such as these are adequate for backing up folders such as My Documents but are inappropriate for performing a full system restore should the operating system fail, or if key system hardware is damaged and the backup needs to be restored to dissimilar hardware. These programs are known as file-based backup applications.
Other applications can create an exact image of the hard disk, including all system and nondata files such as configuration files, software updates, network files and the like. Such programs, generally referred to as disk imaging applications, often can be used for restoring a system back to a known, working state should the system suffer a serious failure.
Backup reliability and integrity
While backing up your data is important, nothing is more important than being able to restore the data. It does you no good to create full backups, only to be stymied when you try to restore your image to a new server. Today, disk-imaging applications are separated into two classes-those that can restore an image to any hardware platform and those that only restore an image back to the same computer that was originally imaged.
The reason for this differentiation is based on how the programs deal with Microsoft Windows itself. Windows has built-in security alerts that stop the operating system from being moved to new hardware-it's an anti-piracy protection. Some disk imaging applications have the intelligence to recognize this limitation in Windows and work with the operating system to permit it to be moved to new hardware. Creating an image of a hard disk and restoring it to different hardware is not a violation of the End User Licensing Agreement with Microsoft, but it is a best practice for protecting workstations and servers.
Remember, selecting the right backup and recovery application is only the first step. Testing the application and making sure it will restore your servers anywhere to any environment is critical. It will do you no good to have a backup that cannot be restored and get you up and running again.