Disaster Recovery optimize

Apply the D.I.C.E framework to determine your best backup server solution


Your company's data is important, but how well do you protect it? What would happen in case of a fire, or if an employee accidentally (or purposely) deleted a large amount of data? You need a backup solution, but what do you pick? How do you even begin to traverse the multitude of options out there to pick the one that's right for your company? To help you make this important decision, TechRepublic is using what we have dubbed the D.I.C.E. (Difficulty, Investment, Capability, Expandability) framework. We will walk through each of these points so you will be able to apply them to your small business environment, and then we will help you pick the solution that is right for you.

To help you apply the D.I.C.E framework, we have created a sample Excel worksheet that incorporates the framework described. The worksheet is available in the download version of this document. Enter your weighting for each of the categories in the worksheet and then rate the importance of each category for each product to get an indication of what backup solution you should acquire. To make the D.I.C.E framework spreadsheet available to the most users, we have included an Excel 2003 and an Excel 2007 version of the worksheet in the download.

Difficulty

The first step we will look at is difficulty. This is composed of two stages.

The first one is installation, and there are several questions to consider. How difficult will this particular backup solution be to implement? Will it require you to bring in outside consultants, or do you (or your staff) have the actual know-how to get it going? Is the integration with your infrastructure simple or complex? How much effort will it take to integrate it? How long will it take to implement?

The next thing you will want to look at is what it will take to keep it running. You know your business will grow, but how hard will it be to add a new server to your backup routine? Will you need to manually change tapes, and how often will you need to do it? Will someone need to daily monitor the system, or can any alerts be e-mailed? How much intervention overall will there need to be on the system? If you use outside consultants, how will they monitor the system and respond to issues? These are all things you must consider when you look at the difficulty of the product.


As an aside, we want to acknowledge the (PDF) D.I.C.E. Framework for Change, which is based on Harold L. Sirkin, Perry Keenan, and Alan Jackson, The Hard Side of Change Management, published in the Harvard Business Review, October 2005, p. 109-118. While the TechRepublic D.I.C.E. framework shares an acronym with their work, it is not related and is merely a coincidence. But it does make for good reading.


Investment

Again, looking at the investment you will have to outlay for the system consists of several questions you will have to consider and answer. How much will the software cost? Will there be additional costs if you add servers to be backed up? What if you need to back up Exchange or Microsoft SQL Server? What about backup agents for Linux, UNIX, or OS X; will you need to buy a tape drive for it? Will it need a new server or can it run on your current hardware?

If you need a new server, do you have the cooling in your server room (or closet) for the additional heat? Will you need to pay someone to install it for you? Will you need to take your (or someone on your staff's) time to maintain it? How much is that time worth? How much will tapes or other backup media cost? How often will they need to be replaced? If you will be sending them offsite, how often will you get them back? Will you contract with a company to keep your tapes offsite? If so, how much will that cost?

One additional thing I would like to mention is that when looking at cost, you also need to figure out how much it would cost you to lose the data you will be backing up. If the cost of the backup system is greater, you really need to consider whether this is something you really need or just something you think you need.

Capability

The capabilities of a backup system can often trip buyers up. Most backup solutions offer a plethora of options, but choosing the ones that are right for you is important. What is the purpose of having (and paying for) functionality if you will seldom or never use it? Most options have an extra cost, so you need to make sure you are getting the ones you need and not paying for things you don't need. There are several criteria you need to think about when looking at the capability of backup systems.

The first one is, will it back up what I have? This is one area where you will need to be careful. If you run Windows systems and you see something is Windows compatible, that does not necessarily mean that it will back up the data from applications you run on Windows. Will it back up Microsoft Exchange? If it does, does it back up the whole information store or can it do brick (mailbox) level backups? Can it back up SQL Server, the IIS meta-base, and your ISA server configuration? Does it use Microsoft Shadow copy to back up files?

What will happen if you add a Linux-based Web server into the mix? Can it back that up? If users have important files stored on their desktop machines, will it be able to back those up? Will it cost extra per machine to do that? How will you restore files? Can users do it on their own or will there have to be intervention?

If you use QuickBooks, PeachTree, or any other accounting software, will it back them up? Will it back up your custom written order taking software? What about any other software you depend on or use? These are things to consider, along with any other particulars of your environment.

Expandability

If you plan on growing your business, you need to select a backup solution that can either grow with your business or has a direct upgrade path to a larger scale system. If you have only one server now, what will happen when you add a second one? What if you change your backend architecture? What if your business booms and you immediately have to grow from one to five servers? How will your backup server handle that? If it can't, what will you have to do to get it up to par?

If you decide to host your own e-mail and install Exchange, what will you need to get that going? Will it be as simple as adding a license code for it or downloading a new module? Will you have to upgrade products to support it?

Another thought when looking at expandability is in the media you are using for your backups. If you are using tape, how much data can a single tape hold? How much data will you be backing up? If your nightly backups exceed the size on your tape, how will the system handle that? Can it compress data to increase tape space? Are higher volume tapes available? Will you need to upgrade to a tape changer library or add a second tape backup unit? All of these are considerations when you look at the expandability of the system.

D.I.C.E. framework

One thing you will notice in going through the above D.I.C.E. framework is that I have put no weighting on any of the categories. This is because it is up to you to determine what your primary concerns and needs are. This is something you should decide before even beginning your search for a backup solution. Once you have that, you can apply the framework in whatever weighted manner you wish.

3 comments
apotheon
apotheon

My default is generally rsync or bacula, depending on specific needs. It's hard to beat free, especially when it's reasonably easy to set up, maintain, and expand -- and these days there's really not much point in using any backup media other than hard drives.

rvk
rvk

I agree that rsync is great for disk to disk backup. But to automatically keep multiple versions of backups, with minimal use of storage space, I have been using rsnapshot, www.rsnapshot.org. In my usual implementation, to avoid root privileges while maintaining user and group properties, I use sudo to execute rsnapshot, with passwordless shared keys on normal accounts.

Zemi
Zemi

My company has about 150GB of data that gets backed up. This includes My Documents folders, Exchange DB, SQL DB, group/public data, and a few others. I have had tremendous luck with Symantec Backup Exec 11d. Especially with the Open File option and the GRT (granular restore techology) which allows individual email restores from the Exch Store backup. I do incrementals during the week with a full on Friday. I write the backups to disk first and then to tape. I have a company called OSP (one safe place) that comes out once a week to pick up our tape. I have it setup so the tape rotates yearly, monthly, and weekly.