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Cloud, disk or tape: Choosing the right data backup and recovery method for SMBs

Choosing between cloud, disk and tape backup can be difficult for SMBs. Learn about the pros and cons of each data backup and recovery method before you choose an option for your company.

Choosing the right data backup and recovery method for any company can be difficult, especially for small- to midsized businesses (SMBs). Cloud data backup, disk-based backup and tape backup all have their strengths and weaknesses, making it difficult for an SMB to choose a specific option. Since each option is capable of meeting basic data backup needs, the solution to choosing the correct backup method for SMBs is for them to distinguish their specific data backup needs and priorities.

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Cloud data backup and recovery for SMBs

At Q-Based Healthcare, an Erath, La.-based maker of health care products and cleaners, they needed disaster recovery (DR) for hurricane protection. "We have this war with the weather down here," said Christian Page, Q-Based's IT director "The building I'm in has been flooded two or three times that I'm aware of."

To ensure geographic separation between their data center and their backed up data, Q-Based chose to back up its data to the cloud using Zmanda Inc.'s Zmanda Cloud Backup, which backs up the company's data to Amazon's S3 Cloud Storage. Once set up, cloud backup is the most automatic of the backup methods, requiring little human intervention or hardware or software maintenance, which can be perfect for SMBs, who may have smaller IT staffs.

Q-Based backs up between 1 and 1.5 gig a night and Page said the price for cloud backup is right for their SMB. "The storage is ridiculously cheap," Page said. "It's pennies per gigabyte transferred and stored on their server.

However Q-Based has also had some limitations using cloud data backup. Backing up data to the cloud is limited by the bandwidth of the internet connection. If you have large amounts of data that need to be backed up at once, it often takes too long to back up or restore them.

"I can't back up everything to the cloud," said Page. "We back up documents, Word files, Excel spreadsheets and such to the cloud. The artwork and videos are static and I use the content delivery network to store videos on site by dumping them to an external 1 terabyte USB drive."

Editor's Tip: For more information about cloud data backup, read this tutorial from SearchDataBackup.com.

Disk backup and recovery for SMBs

At Hay House, a Carlsbad, Calif., book publisher specializing in self-help titles, disk backups serve as daily data protection with a weekly tape backup for archival purposes. Hay House replaced its tape library with a disk-to-disk virtual tape library (VTL) with an archival tape backup and has been very satisfied with the results.

Disk-to-disk backup is the fastest of the three data backup technologies. It's particularly well-suited for enterprises with a lot of data and a narrow backup window. And the maintenance and human intervention it requires is in between that of cloud and tape backups. "For us, the biggest advantage to disk is the speed for doing a restore," said Mike Fishell, Hay House's Director of Information Technology. "Speed and performance makes it a lot easier, plus we don't have to maintain large catalogs of tape."

To keep data backup sizes under control, Fishell uses the data deduplication feature on his Quantum DXI 5500 virtual tape library, resulting in a 90% decrease in the amount of data needed to be stored. Deduplication is available on all three technologies, a least from some storage vendors.

In addition to business documents and manuscripts, Hay House also has audio files to back up. "We have an online radio station with some of our authors," Hay explained. "We sometimes have to pull clips for authors. Instead of having to request tapes from offsite, which might take several hours, we can do restores in five minutes or less."

To supplement its daily disk backups, Hay House does a weekly tape backup using a Quantum Scalar 50 tape drive and sends the tapes off site for protection.

Editor's Tip: For more information about disk backup, read this tutorial from SearchDataBackup.com.

Tape backup for SMBs

Tape is rugged, portable and able to handle large volumes of data with a low operating cost per byte. LTO-4 cartridges cost about half a cent per gigabyte or less. (The overall cost of tape backup can be skewed by the cost of the hardware in the case of a business with small amounts of data.) Tape backup is best suited to long-term archival storage of data. In fact, for archives, tape storage is still the standard for most SMBs, and probably will be for years to come.

Tape is best suited to full backups because it is a sequential medium. Individual files can be recovered from a tape backup, but the process is slower than getting them off a disk, which offers users random access. In addition, tape drives do not spin constantly like disks, meaning tape uses less energy to store data.

Editor's Tip: For more information about tape backup, read this tutorial from SearchDataBackup.com.

Because the strengths and weaknesses of the competing technologies don't necessarily relate to the size of the enterprise, deciding which technology is right for backing up your SMB is a matter of matching your needs and your particular situation against the strengths and weaknesses of the competing technologies. Any of them can do a good job of protecting your data, but choosing the best fit has to be done largely on a case-by-case basis.

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

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