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Choosing a better SMB backup solution

Choosing a better SMB backup solution has gotten easier, thanks to new cloud, disk, and backup appliance products.

Small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) basically have the same data backup and recovery needs of larger organizations. Their data is no less important. And thanks to some new backup products from vendors geared toward SMBs, there are many choices available—in the form of disk, continuous data protection, backup appliances, and even backup-as-a-service offerings via the cloud.

In Lauren Whitehouse's latest Storage magazine column, learn about how to choose the best SMB backup solution, products in this space, and why disk backup is a good backup solution for SMBs.

The only big difference between the computing environment of a large organization and a small one is scale. The paradox is that any type of disruption to computer systems or loss of access to data for an extended period of time—while a nuisance in a larger company—could be detrimental to an SMB. In either case, it’s imperative to protect system and data assets. But what’s the best approach for smaller organizations?

While less likely to be challenged by the “backup window” and recovery time objective (RTO) issues faced by larger counterparts, smaller organizations are characterized by limited IT staff and budgets. Therefore, keeping data protection simple and cost-efficient is crucial. There are a number of backup solutions and approaches that meet these criteria for smaller firms.

A switch to disk

Storing backup copies on tape is still a preferred method in smaller firms. In a survey of 441 data protection professionals, Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) found that a tape-only backup strategy in companies with fewer than 1,000 employees is more predominant than in firms with more than 1,000 employees (by a 3:2 margin). Tape is a cost-efficient, long-term storage media, but its use can slow recovery and require operator intervention. Leveraging disk in backup processes not only speeds backup and recovery, it opens up a lot of options for capturing copies for system and data protection. While the adoption of disk storage requires a CapEx investment, OpEx savings make tape replacement with disk more palatable. For that reason, more SMBs should focus on the cost justification for a switch to disk.

Simplify backup and recovery processes

Keeping things simple starts with the way backup and recovery is accomplished. One approach is to capture a complete image of the system, including the operating system, application software, system state and data. Image- or system-level backup accelerates the process vs. a file-by-file inspection. The real advantage, however, is in the recovery process because the system can be rapidly recovered from “bare metal.” Vendors such as Acronis, CA and Symantec offer disk-imaging products that allow IT to clone a whole disk image and rapidly restore it as a whole. For virtual environments, Veeam and Quest Software vRanger offer similar functionality.

Continuous data protection (CDP) technology is another appealing approach for smaller organizations because it can capture data modifications continuously to enable recovery from any previous point in time. CDP captures block- or file-level changes, mirroring data to the CDP server, which is typically an appliance. The beauty of CDP is that in the event of disruption on a primary system, the technology eliminates the need for a mandatory restore. The CDP appliance can operate as the primary vehicle temporarily. CDP solutions vendors include CA, FalconStor, IBM, Quest Software and SonicWall.

Some backup solutions offer semi-continuous backup in seconds-to-minutes intervals. Microsoft, Symantec, Syncsort and Unitrends deliver CDP-like functionality as they’re based on snapshot technology rather than continuous capture. These solutions take snapshots at intervals as frequently as every few seconds, but for small organizations even hourly capture is reasonable and more cost-effective. A snapshot-style approach to backup isn’t limited to software-based solutions. There are plenty of storage systems vendors promoting backup via snapshot, including Dell, NetApp and Nimble.

Physical and virtual appliance packaging

Packaging data protection in an appliance form factor simplifies the procurement and deployment of backup and recovery. Appliance-based solutions are pre-assembled with the necessary compute, storage, software and network interface components, taking the guesswork out of configuring and acquiring piece parts, and offering a more plug-and-play installation and configuration experience. And, since appliances are purpose-built for processing, they don’t disappoint on performance. Arkeia, Barracuda Networks, Dell, EMC, FalconStor, Hewlett-Packard, i365, QuorumLabs, SonicWall, Symantec and Unitrends are just a few of the vendors enabling appliance-based data protection deployment.

A virtual appliance eliminates the need for physical appliance packaging, and delivers the ultimate simpler and cheaper data protection experience. It’s a preinstalled, preconfigured, fully tested application with an operating system tailored to run that application—delivered in a virtual machine. The aim is to eliminate the materials, installation, configuration and maintenance costs associated with running complex stacks of software. A virtual appliance is an attractive approach to deploying applications because it improves resource utilization vs. physical hardware approaches and offers more flexibility in configuring high availability, load balancing and business continuity. Virtual appliances for data protection include those from Arkeia, EMC, FalconStor and PHD Virtual Technologies.

SaaS and cloud storage

The discussion of a simpler and more cost-efficient data protection strategy would be incomplete if it didn’t include a cloud option. Backup Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and cloud-based storage are emerging as go-to SMBs backup solutions. Why? Backup SaaS requires no up-front capital investment in backup infrastructure and little to no administrative overhead. This approach takes advantage of on-demand resources available from a third-party provider on a subscription basis. Similarly, taking advantage of on-demand cloud-based storage -- rather than on-premises storage systems—for backup copies reduces storage capacity requirements and lightens the load of storage administrators, lowering costs.

There’s no shortage of vendors offering backup SaaS. Those catering to the commercial sector include Axcient, Carbonite, i365, IBM, KinecticD, SunGard, Symantec, VaultLogix, Venyu and VMware/Mozy. For cloud backup storage, Amazon, Microsoft and Nirvanix have partnerships with a number of backup vendors to provide the backup destination for copies made with in-place backup software.

Don’t compromise

No business should skimp on system and data protection, least of all one that could suffer some adverse impact on revenue or customer relationships due to system downtime or data loss. There are countless vendors, solutions and approaches aimed at minimizing this risk, while keeping complexity and cost to a minimum.

About this author: Lauren Whitehouse is an analyst focusing on backup and recovery software and replication solutions at Enterprise Strategy Group, Milford, Mass.

This article was previously published in Storage magazine.

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