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By Mike Talon

Many smaller shops can’t afford replication and other advanced DR solution sets, and they sometimes resort to hoping that the disk mirroring they’ve set up on the single server in the office will be sufficient.

While disk-based backups aren’t a bad thing to have, they won’t protect your organization from an office flood or the next huge virus taking out the entire server. For that eventuality, you need to have a point-in-time copy of your data stored away from the server itself.

Choose a backup device

First, decide what kind of backup device to use. If you only have a few megabytes of vital data, you can probably get away with a removable device such as a ZIP drive. The only drawback is that these devices have limitations on the amount of data they can hold, which is usually around 750 MB per cartridge.

If you have more data to protect, you’ll need a larger removable device. Tape backup systems generally allow for the storage of 40 to 120 GB per cartridge, providing enough room to back up most of your data to one tape in many circumstances.

Midsize companies may need to purchase a small jukebox device. These devices can usually hold up to five tapes at once, allowing you to back up even larger data sets and multiple server systems. While they’re more expensive than single-tape systems, they generally fall within the budgets of most companies that require them.

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Select backup software

Next, find some form of backup software to transfer the data to the tape itself–and to recover it when necessary. If you’re using Windows NT, 2000, or 2003, you can use the built-in backup tools.

While these tools can do the job, you might want to check out some of the more advanced tools on the market. They allow you to take advantage of more types of tape systems, back up to both disk and tape with more options, and perform a host of other advanced operations.

Most backup tools also employ agents to back up locked and/or open files, and they back up the system state in such a way as to be able to restore the entire server if you lose everything. These “bare-metal” or “emergency recovery” systems take up more tape space, but they help you quickly get back in action should something such as a virus attack destroy all of your data and the operating system.

Find alternative storage space

Finally, find a place to store the tapes besides the office. Companies that store backup tapes on a shelf next to the servers have found out the hard way that disasters that strike the server can very often take out that shelf as well.

For smaller businesses, the best bet is for someone to take the tapes home each night, storing the monthly backups in a safe or a safe deposit box. Somewhat larger companies can contract with a firm that will pick up and store tapes and that will return them when needed.

Tape backups and removable media offer a low-cost methodology to keep point-in-time copies of your data away from your server systems. The up-front investment in tapes and a tape device (or removable media and a drive) will provide a return on investment many times over the first time you have to use the system to restore vital data.

Mike Talon is an IT consultant and freelance journalist who has worked for both traditional businesses and dot-com startups.