For years my consulting office has managed backup routines for numerous commercial clients. It doesn't matter who installed the backup software (it could have been us, a competitor, the manufacturer, etc.). It doesn't matter who configured the backup application (it could have been a novice engineer, a CCIE, an MCSE, a 20-year industry veteran, etc.). It doesn't matter who manufactured the backup software. It doesn't even matter whether the client is using native backup software, third-party utilities, or disk-imaging tools. Backup operations frequently fail.
Possible causes for backup failures include:
- Clients forget to replace a tape.
- A user disconnects an external hard disk power cord in order to charge his cell phone.
- Software hangs.
- Media fails.
- The power goes out.
- Flash floods strike.
Regardless of the cause, there's one thing your consulting firm can do to help eliminate one of the most important business continuity tasks: standardize, when possible, on a single backup application. Centralizing client backups using a single platform from a single manufacturer has numerous benefits.
By implementing a single backup application, your office's engineers minimize the number and variety of strange ghost-in-the-machine errors that occur. When anomalies arise (such as application A proves incompatible with brand B tape drives, but only on 64-bit servers), once you discover and document the solution (potentially an obscure and ill-publicized patch), you'll be better prepared to quickly resolve that issue the next time it occurs.
When deploying a single backup solution, when possible, engineers will become more familiar with the applications advanced capabilities. When technicians must split time familiarizing themselves with a variety of backup suites, it's more difficult to master a tool's advanced features.
Favoring a single backup solution also enables engineers to become intimately familiar with an application manufacturer's technical support processes. The more systems are used, the better they're typically navigated and leveraged. Occasionally you get lucky, too, and score the name and direct number or email address of a particularly savvy technical support representative. Trying to land such contact information for a variety of backup application providers is unlikely.
Don't forget recovery
The reason we make backups is to recover systems when they fail. The more familiar a consultancy becomes with the recovery processes required of a specific backup application, the better.
My office has become so familiar with one leading brand of image backup software that we've actually recovered failed servers from total and fatally corrupted states to fully operational condition in less than three hours, including the time required to locate a new chassis. When your energies are as focused as the real-world reasonably allows, your abilities with a single platform tend to increase.
There will be exceptions
Occasions will arise when a sole backup application won't adequately meet all clients' requirements, and you'll have to work with other software solutions. But when given a choice, and when a client asks for your best recommendation, you could do much worse than recommending a solution with which your office techs are intimately familiar, know inside and out, and are confident and quick when troubleshooting or recovering.
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.