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Since this is the initial blog post for Net2Vault, I want to talk about something we do every day: backups. Every IT shop has to deal with backups and there is an excellent reason for this. Backups are important.
Let’s keep it basic and high level but still cover some steps that I know some IT shops sometimes overlook.
Years ago, I took a class on being highly effective; many readers may be familiar with this class. One lesson from this class was a matrix that defined things like important and urgent. For example, a ringing phone is urgent, but it may not be important. The key is understanding how to balance your time between urgent tasks and tasks that are important.
A good backup strategy doesn’t always seem urgent, but it is very important. Good system administrators understand this. If not, they understand when a critical restore is needed. I know of people who have lost their positions over backup problems.
Tape is still used frequently, so let’s start by talking about tape based backups.
If you are using tape-based backups, it is important to get the tapes out of the computer room every day and into a fire resistant safe. Always keep in mind that a problem in the computer room could affect the backup tapes that are still in the computer room. The safe should be physically separated from the computer room. Read this paragraph again. Remove the tapes from the computer room every day.
Next, move the tapes offsite. Fire resistant safes are not fire proof (or disaster proof). Any safe is rated to protect for so long against only so high of a temperature.
How often you offsite your tapes depends on your strategy and business model (read: wallet). No less than once per week is recommended. Some shops may do this once per day. Remember that a site-wide disaster could damage to the onsite tapes. Some shops may want to duplicate the tapes so there is always a copy onsite and tapes do not have to be recalled for a restore. Your business may make this a requirement for faster restores or you may not be able to spend the money, time or effort involved. Duplicating tapes will add costs and can take considerable time.
We should pause here since I just mentioned restores. Test your restore capabilities. An engineering company I worked for once was moving a site and a buddy was backing up all the workstations in preparation for the move. He was quite proud of how quickly the backups were running and when he gave me the numbers, I did the math. The backups ran much faster than the network capacity allowed. Sure enough, when he checked the tapes there was no data on them. Fortunately there was a happy ending when we corrected the problem before the site move. The moral of the story: Check your work. Always test your backups.
Eventually you will want to bring tapes back from offsite storage. Once again there is a dependency on your backup strategy and wallet to decide how long the tapes are kept offsite before you bring them back onsite to be put back into rotation. Remember, they do not all have to come back together. You can keep one set each week, each month, or each year offsite for a longer period. This is typical.
Another backup strategy is to avoid tapes and all the challenges they present. Not only can a bad tape ruin your day, but there are costs and manpower associated with using tape based backups.
One alternative is replicating the data to a storage system at another site.
Allow me to use NetApp for a reference since I have been working with this vendor many years. SnapVault and SnapMirror allow replication of data between two filers. SnapVault was designed for backups but can be slow; walking through the file system is similar to a tape backup. SnapVault also does not allow data compression over the network unless you are using the latest RC candidate of the OS (now that statement will age…).
At Net2Vault we have simple tricks for combining the two to allow fast SnapVault backups with compression over the WAN for our customers (there had to be a plug in here somewhere). We run almost 65,000 replication streams every day. Net2Vault was the first to market with cloud-based backups for NetApp and we have picked up one or two tricks along the way. Another useful trick is a way to open LUNs to quickly restore individual files from a VMDK, for example.
The backup process is pretty straightforward using NetApp native replication. Simply run the appropriate replication application and let SnapMirror/Vault take care of the work for you. Your backups are created according to the schedule you set and offsite copies are created at the same time. No tapes to handle and you get to put the refrigerator where the safe used to be.
Too good to be true? It might be. There are some requirements. You need a geographically distant site, some storage at that site, some experienced people at that site, and bandwidth connecting the two sites. The bandwidth depends on your data backup requirements.
You can deal with all those requirement, except the last one, by contracting with a cloud storage provider. Sorry, you will still need some bandwidth. That is not as challenging as you might think. Net2Vault can run customer replications at night over a customer’s existing WAN connection when everyone has gone home. Even when a network upgrade is recommended, the users get a WAN upgrade, which makes them happy.
I recommend finding a cloud storage provider that only charges for storage and does not charge for extras like network bandwidth usage or data restores. These additional charges can add up over time. I could make a recommendation if you like.
Whichever backup strategy you choose, do it well. It is important.
And check your work!