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Choose the right automated backup system for your needs

Automated backup systems are easy to understand with just a few basic concepts. Here's what you need to know about this highly reliable and increasingly popular technology.

Automation has transformed a wide range of formerly undependable, labor-intensive data center technologies, and backups are no exception. Automated backup systems can improve backup quality and reliability, while staff members are free to focus on other tasks.

Automated backup systems take snapshots of primary data sources, such as virtual machines, databases and cloud applications. These records put data copies in safe, secure storage in a secondary location, which enables IT administrators to recover data in case the primary data source is damaged or unavailable.

Many automated backup systems can integrate with a wide range of resources. These can include databases, orchestration platforms and capacity management technologies. "With the explosive growth of the cloud, automation of data protection between on premise[s] and cloud infrastructure is also a must," said Mike Giordano, infrastructure and cloud services operational delivery lead at advisory firm Capgemini North America.

Top-tier automated backup systems work in the background without interfering with or bogging down day-to-day operations.

"They allow for seamless recovery or restoration of a preserved backup in a timely manner that doesn't require manual manipulation of data sets," said Weston Happ, product development manager at Merchant Maverick, a website that reviews small business software and services.

Automated backup system options

The best automated systems offer native integration with other tool sets in the organization, Giordano said. "Integrations can be via API calls or a direct plugin between the tools that are fully supported by both vendors," he said. Most automated backup systems, regardless of type, support all major data sources, such as VMware and Microsoft 365 and Hyper-V.

Top-tier automated backup systems work in the background without interfering with or bogging down day-to-day operations.

Most automated backup systems fall into one of two basic categories: installed or as a service. The former is software that's installed on an on-premises server. The latter is a cloud-based backup-as-a-service offering delivered by the vendor as a fully managed service that requires no hosting or management efforts by the IT organization using it.

"The main advantage of the traditional software backup is greater control over the system on the client side, while cloud backup as-a-service products provide greater automation and management simplicity," said Vincent Marino, chief product officer and CEO of cloud services management platform provider Afi.ai.

How to select a product

To choose the right automated backup system, Marino said consumers should reference product comparisons published by industry analyst firms. They can then run proof-of-concept projects on two or three of the most highly rated options.

"In addition to the software cost, make sure to consider the total cost of ownership for each solution, including hardware costs, time spent by IT staff to manage the system and internet bandwidth," Marino said.

For maximum long-term data protection, Happ said IT managers should compile a list of their organization's essential digital assets before the final deployment of the automated backup system. "Once a clear data set has been defined, the best choices for how and when to back up can be tailored to your specific needs," he said.

Failure to test the automation system's restoration process well before regular operation begins is a potentially devastating pitfall to avoid. "Testing the restoration ... before an actual attack or data loss has occurred will leave any organization far better prepared for when a backup is truly needed," Happ said.

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