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The evolution of data backup solutions

The Corbel Blog

Data loss is a terrible concern for all of us in these technological times, just from a personal perspective – whether it’s copies of letters written, photos of the children or family dog, digital recording of TV programmes or our ever-growing music libraries.

Put this into a commercial context and there’s a much, much larger volume of data and the majority of it is critical to the organisation and a fair proportion of it may even be sensitive data depending upon the nature of the organisation. The loss (or even corruption) of such data could severely cripple if not disable the operational capability of an organisation to the point it may not be able to recover.

The huge volume of data that we have to store today has wildly outstripped previous forecasts – it was thought we would require 2.6 times the storage that we needed ten years ago, but data itself has grown dramatically with us now storing 75 times more files than we were ten years previously.

Making backups of data has changed in nature over the years, partially driven by innovation and partly pulled along by technology. Some businesses that used to survive with data backups on SyQuest or Iomega drives, have moved onto tape backup systems (e.g. Colorado, Sony etc.) or external/network attached hard disk solutions. Other organisations have moved into more recent technology and are keeping copies of their files “in the cloud” so they don’t have to invest in the infrastructure themselves and are using a backup service instead.

Figure 1: The evolution of backup.

Figure 1: The evolution of backup.

All forms of backup solution has its pros and cons, as illustrated by figure 1. Tape backup is still used in some quarters but it is slow, unreliable and often noisy. If tape backups are not checked and verified for data quality then they can be failed backups that are effectively useless. As shown in figure 1, only 34% of companies that use tape backup solutions test their backups and of those companies, 77% of them report failed backups.

Disc-based backup is fairly common presently, covering everything from compact solutions for homes and small businesses to rack-based large capacity storage solutions. The two main issues with this form of backup solution are that the hard drives have a fairly short life, 22% of drives won’t last more than four years, plus the units are also fairly expensive to purchase and populate with drives.

A more recent development is the cloud. Cloud backup services are becoming increasingly common and more sophisticated. The biggest issue with cloud-based backup services is the connectivity between the user and the cloud service. If the organisation has slow to fairly average internet connectivity then they will likely find that backing up to the cloud is fairly manageable but restoring from the cloud is painful and very time consuming. For example, if an organisation with a 25Mbps internet connection was to replicate 5TB data, not a huge amount of data by today’s standards, it would take four days to completely finish the process. If that organisation was having to restore due to a physical disaster or a sophisticated ransomware attack that would be a long while for critical systems to be out of action and the organisation to be in a state of limbo considering 98% of organisations can’t go more than one day without access to their critical data.

To try and tackle the issues experienced with cloud-based backup solutions, a new approach has surfaced – the hybrid backup. Hybrid backup solutions consist of a hardware backup unit that holds the latest complete backup and this connects to a cloud service that holds all the backups. Each time a new backup is made onto the hardware unit, the hardware unit updates the cloud with the new data. In this scenario, connectivity to the cloud isn’t so time critical as the hardware backup unit is acting as a middle man between the standard network infrastructure and the cloud service. Also in the event of a restore situation, data will be restored from the hardware unit which is much quicker than downloading terabytes of data from the cloud direct. Put simply, the hybrid solution take the benefits of disc-based backup and cloud-based backup and merges then into a single solution which is fast, cost-effective and reliable.

Only 35% of SME’s have a backup plan and 70% of SME’s aren’t confident that their backup and disaster recovery plans are well managed and thorough. No matter which backup solution you have or you move to in the future, it has to be right for your business model and be reliable. Part of every backup plan should involve periodic testing and verification of backups to make sure that the data being captured is usable in the event of a restore of critical systems.

Ask yourself – if your backups were tested today, would they pass or fail an integrity test?