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Lessons Learned From Online Data Storage And Backup

Tue, 11/30/2010 - 7:50am
Dylan Persaud, Managing Director, Eval-Source

There is no overstating the importance of data storage and backup. When disaster strikes, IT professionals sometimes need to roll back or restore their systems. What should they do?

As a SMB owner, and coming from an IT background, I have learned the importance of storage and backup. When disaster strikes and you need to roll back or restore your system, what do you do? Do you back up often, are there viable system restore points, what redundancy methods do you use, do you have off-site storage  to recover data if need be?

The importance of hard disk partitions should not be overlooked.  If you have to restore your OS, at least your programs won’t be at risk if  you had partitioned your drives separately (one for OS and one for the data and applications). At least this should save some time if a system restore was required.

Getting caught up in the hype in cloud and online storage, naively I took the risk of going with a cloud storage solution for one of our main servers. This turned out to be a big gamble on our part. We backed up the data required and key content that we created, and that was offloaded to our online storage provider. At this point this was our only backup policy, of which we have since rectified.

Now the time for a restore is upon us. Our online storage provider requires that you set your restore points for backups as per normal practice. When a date was selected for the restore, the files had to be generated as per a request made through your account. Again no problem, as this seems reasonable and standard business practice for online recovery.  In our case we had only stored approximately 50 Gig of information from this one server. The files generated to restore the 50 GB were 12 files at approximately 4.2Gig each.  Now the download process began to begin to restoring the lost data due to the reinstall of the OS.

Upon downloading these 12 large files that were created caused serious headaches. It seemed not only are there bandwidth limitations on your personal internet provider account, but also factor in the speed in which your connection has, possible sharing of bandwidth with other customers, and time of day when you download, are factors to consider if a restore is required. This is a common problem for home-based businesses as proprietors use their home internet connection to run their business from. The approximate time the computer gauges with the internet connection was approximately 2-3 days for each file, meaning this would take approximately 24-36 days considering the downloads were completed and uninterrupted. Due to constant Windows updates causing automatic reboots of your system interrupted the process several dozen times. These interruptions caused the necessity to start the download from the file at the beginning.  The files were so large that the internet connection would time out during the download, rendering the file useless for restore because it was incomplete. Incidentally, if it was partially completed, once reinitiated  it would not pick up where it left off, it would restart the entire file causing further delays.

Considering all files have downloaded correctly the restore must now take place. Not to mention all the applications had to be redownloaded and reinstalled again and not to forget all the nice extensions you installed to customize your web experience. After the restore you should have computer savvy to restore your PST file from Outlook to restore your contacts before the pre-crash state. This process is a little more involved than it sounds.  Being without the key content and information you require especially your contact information from Outlook was detrimental to productivity.  In the meantime other priorities and continuing your business is still a priority of which cannot be ignored.  How can you conduct business without your content and contacts?

The lessons learned her for using an online cloud backup for SMB are:

  1. Know your internet bandwidth limitations
  2. Know your consistent download speed
  3. Know the extensions you installed to customize your web experience
  4. Keep a list of installed applications
  5. Know where and what data you require to operate your daily business
  6. Understand how to replace your email especially if you use Outlook – namely the PST file
  7. Have a redundancy plan for data backup – Recommend a hard disk back up as well
  8. Partition your drives if possible to separate the OS and Applications and data (create a disk image which would allow you to restore without having to reinstall everything from scratch)
  9. Have all your installed software with the license key in a convenient place
  10. Make sure files once they are extracted are in a usable form, usually it is zipped hopefully with rar or pk unzip or 7zip
  11. Understand how to overwrite an existing folder structure, not individual files within folders
  12. Know your directory structure to rebuild your apps properly
  13. Make sure to have created backup system restore points and OS boot disks

Several lessons I learned from when my computer would not boot and required a fresh install of Windows 7 are those from above. While I will continue to back up online through the cloud our biggest hurdle was internet speed. Once the files downloaded the extracts did not work properly, there were security issues, archive issue, and file compatibility issues. We have since then purchased software to create disk images and automatic backups to external drives while also keeping the cloud option intact. This should solve the issue of restoring quickly if need be. These are some of the lessons learned from an online restoration process. We have also implemented an offsite backup and archiving as well as standard network business practice. Hope this helps for SMB customers as all you know how painful it can be to do a system restore. Know the limitations of your system, the network, and the back ups in case you have to restore your OS and Apps.

Eval-Source is an Analyst/Consulting consulting firm that offers enterprise software evaluation, benchmarking for companies and strategic consulting to the business marketplace. Our innovative professional services combine to make your life easier whether it is to acquire enterprise software , or benchmarking to add critical decision support to your technology investments using the Tru-Eval and Tru-Benchmark systems.

Follow Eval-Source's blog at www.eval-source.com/blog or on twitter @eval_source

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