Breaking Traditions in Small-Business Backup

 
 
By David Morgenstern  |  Posted 2003-06-12
 
 
 

When it comes down to the nitty-gritty details of backup, most small-business owners (along with most individual users) have a less-than-solid grasp on the reality of their backup needs. This knowledge gap should come as no surprise, since the path of least resistance is to follow the tradition of daily backup, rather than taking the time to examine ones workflow and determine real needs.

Most servers aimed at the small-business market come with a tape drive built in for backup. At the end of day, a script runs to back up the data on the server and perhaps the client computers on the network. Every day (or every week), someone swaps out the tape. This is the common knowledge and the familiar practice. And most small businesses think theyve done their duty with that backup scheme.

Small-business owners should regard that nightly backup like the prescription of an apple a day for health. The practice certainly cant hurt—but like that apple, once a day is probably not enough backup for your business.

"One of the biggest problems with backup is that customers need to determine which data is more critical to their business than other data," observed Don Chouinard, director of marketing at backup vendor Dantz Development Corp. "The key to defining a credible backup and recovery strategy is to first determine the value of the data and then how much time can be lost without impact on the organization."

Chouinard points to two issues that owners must settle up front. In the IT trade, these variables are called Recovery Point Objective, or the age of the data you will be able to restore your records to after a disaster strikes; and Recovery Time Objective, or the time that will be needed to resume your business activity after a problem.

Of course, each company will have a different answer to these questions. For some businesses, the order-entry database and server will hold the critical data. However, for some small businesses, their e-mail messages may hold critical data about customers and orders.

In any case, only the owner of a business can determine how much data loss is acceptable (after all, thats the hard-core version of the question) and how long the total recovery process will take. Data thats backed up more frequently will reduce the amount of lost data and may allow users to resume business faster. At the same time, more backups will require more diligence and entail higher costs.

Its natural to think first of server-based data when considering backup, and then perhaps the data held in workstations sitting on or under peoples desks. This perspective is yet another old-fashioned belief thats out of touch with todays business environment. It presupposes a 9-to-5 work day in the office.

Nowadays, small business workers are mobile.

According to analyst Gartner Inc., 25 percent of all computers sold are notebooks, and that percentage will rise to one in three within a couple of years. The company said many users have exchanged deskbound models for a mobile alternative. In addition, small and midsize businesses "offer some of the most realizable growth prospects for mobile PCs in the short and medium term."

Other analyst reports estimate that some businesses hold most of their critical data on PCs and notebooks rather than servers. But again, its the server that receives the attention when it comes to backup. "While [client-side data] may be more static and can be backed up less frequently, it needs to be protected just as well as the order-entry system," Chouinard said.

He had it right at the top: The biggest problem with backup is that someone in the business needs to take a look at what data is critical and where its all stored. For most small-business owners, that chore is a big bore. And its easier to let inertia take over and continue to believe in the traditional once-a-day backup plan.

Doesnt that apple taste great?

David Morgenstern is a longtime reporter of the storage industry as well as a veteran of the dotcom boom in the storage-rich fields of professional content creation and digital video.

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