So you have a small business with a server, a few workstations, copier, printers, wireless, etc. You have a backup of sorts going to some mystery gizmo on some kind of schedule. It was installed a while back and you’ve been told it works. You’re not sure exactly what is being backed up, what the backup method is, or what the backup schedule may be, but you’re pretty confident all is well with it.

We run into this scenario all the time and in more than half the cases we find that the backup either isn’t working, hasn’t been working, all data directories aren’t being backed up, or important user documents aren’t being stored on the server where the backup is happening. Below are just a few scenarios we encounter all too often.

Scenario #1: Islands of Data
We were contacted by a small company to do a network assessment and ensure their network was safe, secure and configured correctly. Overall, things were pretty good; security, equipment, user training, and backups appeared to be fine. However, when looking at the user’s workstations, we noticed that all user documents were stored directly on the workstation and not the server. The problem here is that the server is doing the backup and since the documents were stored on the PCs, no user data was being backed up. If the PC were to suffer a drive loss (this is pretty common), virus, accidental deletion, catastrophic event, etc. the user data would be lost. In the case of this client, there was a LOT of end user data and the majority of it was critical. Moral of the story? Ensure that ALL your data is stored on some device that is being backed up. In this case, redirecting user documents to the server, which was already being backed up solves the problem.

Scenario #2: Of Course Our Backups are Good
We received a late afternoon call from a business who reported that their server had crashed and their existing “IT guy” was not having any luck getting it back up and running.  We dispatched a tech, who arrived and found a server that had lost two of three drives in RAID-5…..not good. Immediately, the tech inquired about the backups and was told that the latest backup copy was stored on a portable hard drive. Upon examination of the drive, all the data was almost 2 years old, so the backup had been failing for a very long time and no one was watching it. The backup was image-based, which was good and allowed us to change drives and re-image the server with the 2-year old image. Not ideal, but the only option. In this case, the business owner had been told that the backups were working, but no one was actively looking at them. Their backups were not working because the portable hard drive used for backups had reached its maximum capacity and the backup system was reporting a failure every day. However, this was never caught because there was no oversight. Almost every backup system on the planet has the ablilty to e-mail logs to someone each time a backup is done, if you own a small business, you should insist on being included on the e-mail list. Once you start receiving e-mails, take a minute to actually open the message and scan down the report for errors, warnings, or things in red/yellow/orange, etc. If you see a problem, notify your IT company as soon as possible.

Scenario #3: Oh no, it’s File-Based…
File-Based backups vs. Image-Based backups, both are viable backup solutions, but one is much better.  What’s the difference? File-Based backups copy each individual file from the backup source to whatever backup medium you have (tape, thumb drive, off-site, NAS, etc.). When it comes time to restore (particularly to different hardware), file-based starts to be a problem. With File-Based, you will end up re-installing the server OS, third-party software, and the backup software before you start restoring Active Directory and user content. This usually takes a lot of time and success rates vary wildly when restoring Active Directory with file-based solutions. With image-based solutions, your backup will consist of a single file, that contains the entire hard drive or volume. Essentially it’s similar to cloning your hard drive and putting it on a shelf, except the backup happens automatically and frequently, giving you multiple restore points going back in time. Some Image-Based solutions even give you the ability to run backup files in a virtual machine without having to restore them to server hardware. In a nutshell, Image-Based solutions are much faster to restore and tend to be much more reliable when the time comes.

There have been numerous times throughout the years that we’ve been called in to restore an entire server that has been backed up with a file-based solution. There have been issues each time, some of them major. If you are still using a File-Based backup solution, it may be time to look at other options.

There is a lot to consider when evaluating your backup solution and for each consideration there are multiple options. If your infrastructure is virtual, replicate it off-site and find a good on-site backup solution with lots of history. If your infrastructure is not virtual, then image-based is your best choice if at all possible. Regardless of your backup choice, make sure it works, watch the reports daily, test it at some interval (quarterly is great), keep as much backup history as you can, make sure ALL data is being backed up and make sure and store a very recent copy off-site in case your building disappears. If you need help selecting or deploying a backup strategy, or if you just need someone to see where you stand, contact us.