4 incredibly useful steps to better backups

Love backups? Didn't think so. To make the process less painful, consider the following steps when creating or changing backup environment

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Step No. 3: Keep it simple

The best backup solution is the simplest. I have seen and, sadly, participated in designing some of the most complicated backup mechanisms you can imagine. Between building in various flavors of disk to disk, replicated disk, disk to tape, direct to tape, and offsite/cloud backups, you can meet nearly any set of requirements you'll ever be faced with. You can also design a system so complex that it collapses under its own weight.

The general rule is to try to use the bare minimum of hardware and software to satisfy the requirements you've defined. Ideally, that boils down to a single software package and a single layer of hardware -- perhaps augmented by a second layer of hardware that might handle offsite archiving if the first doesn't.

In a decent-sized, virtualization-heavy environment, this might boil down to a piece of software like Veeam and a backup-optimized NAS device like an Exagrid. For offsite, you might either get a second replicated NAS to park at a different site or toss in a tape drive and some stripped-down software just to shuffle your Veeam images onto tape. With that combination, you can get a very wide range of RTO/RPO, retention, and archival capabilities without introducing unnecessary complexity.

Step No. 4: Remove the human element

After you have an idea of what your solution will look like, calculate in good faith how much time real people will need to spend making it work. I've seen some fantastically unreliable backup hardware and software over the years, but the weakest link of any backup infrastructure is usually a human one.

Face it: There are always more important things to do than ensure your backups are working -- right up until you actually need them. That often means things fall by the wayside, like investigating backup logs, changing media, and perhaps most importantly actually performing restore testing.

That being the case, try to design your backups so that they're as hands-off as possible. That may seem like an argument for avoiding tape, and in your environment that may be exactly what it boils down to, but don't stop there. Some backup software packages have the capability to automatically test backups every time they perform a backup -- so an operator only needs to be involved when they fail. Don't underestimate the value of features like that. Backups that appear to work fine but are, in fact, useless are no myth. I've seen the bone-chilling results more than once.

Planning for the worst

No matter how you decide to satisfy your backup and recovery needs, make sure you spend at least as much time designing your backup infrastructure as you do actually implementing it. With that investment up front, you'll save time and money in the long run. You'll also avoid the recurring management nightmare that poorly designed backup infrastructures become.

This article, "4 incredibly useful steps to better backups," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Matt Prigge's Information Overload blog and follow the latest developments in storage at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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