Many businesses have multiple locations, which leads to data
being stored on multiple file servers in those locations. There are many ways
to keep that data safe, but branch office—or other forms of distributed office—Disaster
Recovery (DR) can lead to some interesting problems.
The problem with tape backup
First off, while tape is a form of DR that can be used for
branch operations, keep in mind that there will be a steep learning curve if
you’re depending on nontechnical branch staff to use the tape backup. Most
branch offices have no technical staff to deal with the intricacies of managing
and tracking tapes. The task is usually delegated to those who may be
exceptional at other business tasks, but have no idea how tape drives work,
such as administrators or branch managers. Over the last several years, I’ve
heard just about every horror story: from the admin assistant who put the
cleaning tape into the drive every other night, to the branch manager who used
the same tape for four years. Needless to say, none of these tapes worked
properly when it came time to restore the data that had been accidentally lost,
so the DR plan was not very successful.
Automated systems: RAID and VSS
Automated systems can help to remove nontechnical staff from
the equation, but keep in mind that these systems won’t allow you to move the
data off-site in most cases. For example, you can use a RAID array to keep the
data on a storage system that can withstand the loss of one or more drives. You
can also use Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS)
from Microsoft or third-party tools commonly available on the market. Both of
these types of systems will allow you to recover from a local disaster that doesn’t
involve data corruption. The benefit is that both of these automated solutions
can be set up and monitored remotely, thereby moving the administration of
backups to an office where you have technical expertise.
The next level of dealing with branch office backups would be
to actually move the data back to a central office in order to back it up to
tape where you have tech staff ready to keep an eye on the backup systems. This
can be accomplished either with hardware-based systems that are all-in-one
packages for data storage and replication, or by using host-based tools
designed to move data from server to server instead of disk to disk. Both types
of systems can allow you to move only changes to data, but depending on the
size and scope of the projects, you may find that hardware-based systems end up
being less cost-effective in smaller implementations.
No matter what kind of replication you use, nearly all these
systems will allow you to take a snapshot and back up your data at centralized
sites, eliminating the need for nontechnical staff to manage your backup
systems. Keep in mind you may need to move large amounts of data back over lower-bandwidth
links in the event of a total restore. You can get around this by keeping a
standby server at the central site, moving the data to it over high-bandwidth
LAN links, and then shipping the server to the failed site. That site sends the
failed server back to you, where it’s repaired to become the standby server for
the next disaster.
No matter if you train local staff, or get the data back to
technical staff for backup, you must protect branch offices against data loss
and disasters. Knowing what options are available can make it easier to show
management that just because the data isn’t under the same roof, doesn’t mean
it isn’t important.
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