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Choosing a centralized data backup system

For nearly every SMB, centralized backup can increase reliability as well as provide hardware and administrative cost savings. This tip discusses the choices for centralized backup and how to select an effective system based on your specific needs

Centralized backup can increase reliability as well as provide hardware and administrative cost savings. There...

are many choices for centralized backup and selecting the right system requires careful consideration of your specific needs.

Delegating backups to remote site users is asking for trouble. Even if the process is as automated as possible, there are still a lot of things that can go wrong (such as forgetting to change the media as needed) and the failure rate for remote backups is significantly higher than those of centralized backup.

Here are some of the things you need to consider when selecting a centralized backup system:

How many locations?

Are you backing up systems at a single site, or do you have multiple sites or systems on different networks at the same site?

The easiest system to centrally back up has several computers attached to a server by a LAN, all in one office. A bunch of computers tied together by a peer-to-peer network is more difficult because peer-to-peer isn't nearly as flexible or as fast as a true LAN.

Multiple remote locations are even more difficult. Typically, the remote sites will gather all the data, prune it, compress it and transmit it over a WAN, or to the central office. Most backup and storage management software provides for remote backup, but it takes more effort and technical knowledge to set up a multi-site centralized backup. This is one of the reasons that remote backup services are increasingly popular with multi-site small- to midsized businesses (SMBs).

How much data?

One way centralized backup saves money is by reducing hardware costs. Rather than having a separate backup system for each server or desktop, you have fewer (usually one) larger systems at a central location.

When considering centralized backup it's important to know how much data you're going to be backing up. It is important to note that this is not the same thing as the capacity of the disks on your system. As much as 50% or more of that data doesn't need to be backed up at all. Conversely, you need to keep several versions (at least two and usually three) of the data.

While this is particularly important when using a remote backup service that charges for the amount of data stored, it's also important in sizing your system if you own the devices. In addition to selecting the right backup devices, you need to understand the load centralized backup will put on your network. You may find you need to upgrade your network to keep from bogging your system down.

Own or service?

While most SMBs, particularly those with a single location, own their backup systems, more of them are using remote backup services. When selecting a centralized backup method, you owe it to yourself to consider both options.

Owning your own backups gives you the maximum amount of control and can be considerably cheaper than using a remote service. It also doesn't require the bandwidth needed to complete a remote backup in a reasonable amount of time.

One way to centralize backup is to use an online backup service. There are dozens of online backup vendors offering services aimed at every market. SOS Online Backup offers services for home users with a few gigabytes of data. Some companies specialize in backing up corporate data centers with terabytes of data. While companies such as EVault provide several levels of products, from managed services to backup software that you can deploy on your own servers.

One of the major advantages of online backup for SMBs is that it makes backup someone else's problem. For example, you don't have to worry about upgrading or updating hardware as your needs and the technology changes.

The cost of using a remote backup service may or may not be more than owning and maintaining your own backup system. Although the fees may seem high, by the time you consider the cost of the backup hardware and the cost of administering it, a service may actually be cheaper. In addition, the cost of the service comes entirely out of the operating budget, rather than having to pay for hardware out of the capital budget.

Remote backup services vary widely in their cost, pricing, quality of service guarantees and other contract terms. If you're considering using a service, shop around and compare the prices and terms very carefully. Be prepared to put a fair amount of effort into choosing the right service.

What will it cost?

It's important to do a thorough cost, capacity and performance analysis when you select a centralized backup system. There are so many options and so many tradeoffs that it's easy to end up with an expensive, underperforming system if you don't.

At the low end, setting up a centralized backup system may be as simple as installing some software and hanging a tape drive off the server. However, as you move up in size, things can get very complicated very quickly. Midsized businesses may want to hire a consultant to help in choosing a system.

About the author: Rick Cook specializes in writing about issues related to storage and storage management.

This was last published in June 2008

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