1. Data Replication
Although they may be the last place you want them to occur, backup systems are not immune from problems. To protect against failure, backup providers will often offer options for data replication, wherein archived data is duplicated across two or more disks. In highly sophisticated systems this can be done across multiple data centers to afford businesses site redundancy.
However, these options will cost more due to the extra disk space required so businesses will need to balance up the increase in expenditure with the chance of failure, and the bottom line for the consequences of failure, which can be substantial should a disk be unavailable when a restore is required.
2. Global Deduplication
Deduplication refers to the process that backup software goes through to prevent the archiving of multiple copies of the same pieces of data.
Global duplication simply means that this process happens universally across all of the different data sources (eg. separate servers, sites, etc.) rather than discretely within each individual source. Because most businesses have multiple copies of the same files spread across multiple sources, global deduplication is often capable of saving an enormous amount of disk space. As such it has become relatively standard feature in backup and recovery services.
The differentiating feature that businesses will want to keep an eye out for nowadays is whether or not the deduplication is a source side or destination side process. Destination side deduplication is the standard, so if the provider hasn’t specified anything they are probably using this. Source side is much less common, but comes with substantial advantages over destination side processing.
In a source side model the deduplication occurs before the information leaves the client’s environment, meaning that the business will have a substantially reduced load on their network bandwidth. In many cases this will mean that businesses can make backups more frequently, and in spite of peak load periods.
3. Ease of Administration
Even highly sophisticated backup and recovery systems need to be maintained. Providers typically offer two solutions for this: self managed maintenance plans, and fully managed maintenance plans.
As the name would suggest “fully managed” places the onus on the provider to ensure the smooth operation of the backup and recovery process, so clients should make sure ahead of time that the agreement stipulates an appropriate level of support.
It must however be kept in mind that even the best fully managed solution is only as good as the infrastructure on which it is deployed. In contrast, a self-managed service places the onus on the business. There is nothing inherently problematic with this, but businesses will need to make sure that their IT staff have the time to maintain the backup systems appropriately, and factor these time costs into their budgets.
4. Business Continuity Planning
Business Continuity Planning (BCP) is a consultation service offered by the provider in which they will design a backup solution to suit the requirements of your business. By utilising BCP your provider will help you to determine what technologies are and are not necessary for your organisation to use.
This will be based on your desired Recovery Point Objectives (RPOs), which stipulate the recency and frequency of the data updates (ie. every 24 hours for the last month, every 8 hours for the last week, etc.) and your desired Recovery Time Objectives (RTOs), which stipulate the maximum time requirements for a system restore.
Although for some organisations BCP is not a top priority, it has the potential to change the costs of your backup solution drastically as the service is entirely reliant on the expertise and experience of the provider.
5. Fast Recovery Times
Whilst having a detailed backup of your company’s data is beneficial, it’s the time in which you can restore this data (in part or in full) that can have a significant impact on your businesses ability to recover from a loss.
The traditional tape based onsite backup methods often do not facilitate the ability to quickly restore the full system, and if the hardware is no longer available this process can take days if not weeks to completely recover.
One of the best recovery speed indicators are Recovery Time Objectives (RTOs), which stipulate the maximum time a restore is likely to take. Because recovery times are dependent on the infrastructure and levels of support in place, as well as the volume of information to be restored, RTOs will vary for each individual business and are therefore not stated until a consultation has taken place.
Several rule of thumb indicators for fast recovery times that businesses can look for are listed below:
- The availability of data replication which can improve recovery times by minimising complications.
- What the SLA’s of the provider stipulate with regards to service availability and response time.
- The available bandwidth on the connection between the business and the backup archive for expediency of transferring backups.
- The level of availability and reliability of the data center(s) in which the backups are stored. Data centres with a Tier III or higher rating are preferable.
- The ability to house the backup data in close proximity to the restore location. Combinations of BaaS/RaaS and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) are ideal, however where the hosting facility is unreliable this increases the risk posed by a site outage.
- Providers which offer Business Continuity Planning will provide advice on the best way to meet a business’s required RTOs.