Technology consultancies often maintain vast numbers of servers. Even a small consultancy with a few dozen commercial clients likely supports 50 to 100 servers. Larger consultancies may support hundreds of servers. With such numbers comes the statistical likelihood that, sooner or later, a critical server will fail no matter how proactive your consultancy is in maintaining the chassis.
It becomes a numbers game. With added responsibility for a wider variety of servers in a wider variety of operating environments, you must ensure clients can be recovered quickly. Acronis Backup & Recovery imaging software has repeatedly proved invaluable at enabling my consulting office to do just that.
Virtualization isn't for everyone
Many of my consulting office's clients are small and medium businesses that cannot justify the cost of deploying multiple servers boasting shared storage, as is recommended in many virtualization architectures. Instead, these small businesses deploy one or two physical server chasses. Virtual machine snapshots, automatic failover, and high-availability environments aren't in the budget, but the organizations depend on these traditional servers to generate cash flow and power operations. When one fails, small businesses need the system recovered quickly.
Traditional backups are slow and unwieldy
Historically, traditional backups protected organizations against data loss, but many backup operations don't do well recovering a server's entire configuration, applications, and settings, especially to disparate hardware. Faced with the necessity to recover a failed server to a new make and model box, many organizations install Windows, recover user accounts and applications, and then turn their attention to recovering the business data. The process requires time, which is something small businesses dependent upon their servers for daily cash flow cannot waste.
The role of image backup software
Image backup software plays a critical role in addressing two critical and common failures. I'll focus on Acronis Backup & Recovery, because that's the backup software with which my organization possesses the most experience and expertise. We have used the software to recover dozens of servers, including those for which internal IT staff or another consultant deployed other backup software that proved unable to recover a server when a catastrophe occurred.
First, Acronis Backup & Recovery (with its optional Universal Restore feature) enables consulting firms to quickly recover a failed client's server to a different brand chassis within hours. Don't underestimate the importance of being able to recover a server to a different make and model tower or rackmount box — an identical chassis is rarely available within a small business. Recovering an image backup to a completely different physical system — with different RAID controllers, hard disks, video cards, network cards, and chipsets — is often the only option.
Second, Acronis Backup & Recovery has repeatedly proven to be a critical tool in helping my office recover non-bootable servers suffering RAID or hard disk failures. In many cases (including for many corrupted software-based RAID arrays), my office has seen previous backups fail to recover a server to a bootable state. But, by being creative and leveraging the assistance of Acronis Backup & Recovery's boot disk capabilities, my office has successfully recovered numerous corrupted arrays to new RAID configurations built using new disks, thereby returning failed servers for which no bootable image backup was available to bootable, proper operating states. Each time we've done so, we saved the client 40 to 60 hours of time not having to rebuild Windows domains from scratch.
Potent, but not perfect
Judging by some TechRepublic readers' reactions to my last formal Acronis Backup & Recovery review, the product can prove a difficult tool to wield properly. It is not an easy product to learn, and unfortunately, support is poor. My office possesses two dedicated engineers who have invested considerable time learning the program's idiosyncrasies and identifying workarounds to driver and boot issues.
But clients will attest the effort and software license are worth the time and cost. In the hands of capable technicians, the tool repeatedly recovers failed systems and lost data and quickly returns downed servers to proper operation.
Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president of Eckel Media Corp., a communications company specializing in public relations and technical authoring projects.