Choosing the right remote site backup approach

In this tutorial on remote site backup, learn about the pros and cons of onsite data backups, centralized backups and cloud backups for remote sites. Also, take a look at one company's approach to backing up remote sites.

Organizations that have remote sites or remote offices/branch offices (ROBOs) know it's essential to back up their remote site data for backup and disaster recovery purposes. However, it can be costly to maintain and manage data at a remote site, including the costs of IT staff, and hardware and software to support your backup operations. 

In this tutorial on remote site backup, learn about the pros and cons of onsite data backup, centralized data backup and cloud backup for remote sites. Also, take a look at one company's approach to backing up their remote offices.

>>  Onsite tape/disk backups
>>  Centralized backups to a main data center and data replication
>>  Cloud backup services for remote sites
>>  Case study: Consulting firm chooses centralized backup of remote sites
>>  Choosing the right approach for your needs


Organizations can choose to back up each of their remote sites locally using either tape or disk as the backup medium. This remote site backup approach offers local access to data and applications. Keeping local backups can speed restore times, which can be a real benefit if you have to restore a large amount of data.

Onsite backups are often difficult to maintain, however. A company might have dozens of remote sites, so staffing all of them with experienced IT personnel may not be possible. According to Lauren Whitehouse, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, some companies run smoothly without having an IT staff at their remote sites if they're just managing data back and forth from their remote sites. "But if you have any type of hardware failure or network connectivity issue that couldn't be handled from a remote location, then you have a delay in potentially getting the IT staff there," said Whitehouse.

Editor's tip: Anyone responsible for a remote backup system that involves tape can relate to the challenges tape backup may present. For more information, check out this tip about other backup choices for remote backup systems.


In a centralized backup approach, data from the remote sites is backed up to a central data center using replication. With replication, data can be copied frequently throughout the day, copied to the central data center, and backed up there with the rest of the corporate data.

Centralized backups are a good option for remote sites because you don't necessarily need IT staff at remote locations. You also have more control over your data. "Typically with a centralized approach you've got everyone on one program as far as processes and technology, [so] it should be pretty streamlined for recovery," said Whitehouse.

But again, if something goes wrong at a remote site, you still have to troubleshoot it. Cost can also be an issue. Centralized backups can be pricey because of the amount of hardware and software you have to install at the remote sites. But according to Whitehouse, "It's not going to be any more expensive than what you were doing with [onsite backups]. You're investing in technology no matter what."

There are a variety of backup software products on the market today that enable centralized backup such as CommVault Simpana, EMC Corp. Networker, IBM Corp. Tivoli Storage Manager and Symantec Corp. NetBackup.

Editor's tip: For more information on data replication, check out this article on sister site, which includes a free, downloadable checklist to help you choose the best data replication product.


Remote sites can also be backed up to a cloud service using a public or private cloud. Backing up remote sites to the cloud is very similar to centralized backups—you simply back up all of your remote sites to your cloud environment.

Many cloud backup services have a type of local appliance that's synchronized to the cloud, so backup data resides on the appliance for a time before it's shipped to the cloud service. That way, users can recover their data locally if they need to, but also have their data offsite for DR purposes."I think a lot of the cloud vendors figured out that they can't just have everyone dump stuff for the cloud because then you have that scenario where there's nothing on site, so then how do you recover something locally?" said Whitehouse.

However, companies get less control over their data with the cloud, and should pick cloud vendors carefully "because they may not have the same stringent processes and practices to protect the data and make it accessible. You're kind of at their mercy should something go wrong," said Whitehouse. This can cause a significant amount of downtime if you can't get to your data.

Some examples of cloud backup providers that offer hybrid services include Axcient Inc., i365 (a Seagate company), IBM Corp., Iron Mountain and Nine Technologies.

Editor's tip: There are more options than ever for keeping data at ROBOs safe -- perhaps even just as safe as the data at headquarters. For more information on remote offices and cloud backup, read this article about how remote office backup may be getting a little easier with cloud-based backup.


Paul Slager is the manager of information systems at LWG Consulting, a consulting firm that does post-technical disaster work for companies. LWG has 22 remote sites located across the country and around the world. These remote sites are all backed up to a central data center using CommVault Simpana 9, and then they are backed up again offsite to another one of their offices for disaster recovery purposes.

Slager chose a centralized backup approach for his remote sites because most applications in the company run out of their headquarters. "It made sense to centralize everything where all the IT staff is," said Slager. "There's no IT staff at the other satellite offices, so it definitely made sense from that standpoint." The central data center also has the biggest internet pipe, so they are able to accommodate some of the other satellite offices sending backups to the central data center, according to Slager.

Besides the first initial backup done to the central data center, Slager said he hasn't run into any other problems. "The first initial backup that we take, depending on how much data we have, can definitely take a lot time, especially if you don't have a very fast WAN length," said Slager. "But that happens with any product. Once we get over that hurdle, I haven't really found any issues backing up anything here."

When Slager was searching for backup software that would fit with the centralized backup approach he wanted to take, he sat down and listed all of the characteristics he was looking for in a backup software product. After looking at a few options, Slager concluded Simpana 9 was the best choice for his company.

According to Jeff Echols, senior director for global alliances and cloud strategy at CommVault, in a centralized backup approach, Simpana 9 monitors and manages an environment in a big data center by installing a backup agent on each remote server and remote desktop/laptop that can do source-side deduplication. It then does global deduplication across all sides and backs up only the changed blocks over the WAN. "It's a pretty easy process once you get the initial setup going," said Slager.

Editor's tip: Interested in how other organizations are backing up their remote offices? Check out this case study about cash management firm Loomis. Loomis uses EMC Avamar and EMC Data Domain appliances at its Houston data center. Its remote backup problems were remedied in part because of data duplication software.


Echols noted that having a central data for remote sites can have benefits for users. "Usually [there's] better control of policies and procedures because corporate IT staff is more experienced," said Echols. But he feels ultimately a hybrid approach to remote backups is the way to go. "Hybrid offers the potential for the best of both worlds if architected properly," said Echols.

Whitehouse also noted that the best approach to backing up remote sites and offices is a combination of doing a local backup and replicating the copy to a central location, whether that central location is physical or virtual with a cloud. "[Say] I've got a copy offsite, so I don't have to staff out at the edge. Then I can manage it all remotely, and that's all pretty cost-effective," said Whitehouse.

Editor's tip: For even more information, check out our special section on remote site backup. We've got the latest news, tips and expert advice on remote data protection.


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