Ending Storage Confusion: What do Backup, Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Really Mean?


The world of backup has come a long way since the days we relied upon fragile and error-prone tape subsystems.

Today, we have better options for our first-tier backups – high-speed disks and solid-state disks spring quickly to mind.  Cloud is increasingly used as a first-tier backup solution.

Larger operations need more than one tier of backup. If that single backup fails and your primary storage is kaput, you are in deep trouble. Here you can have two physical backup tiers, but that means IT has to manage two sets of storage/backup infrastructure. With cloud backup, that storage infrastructure is managed for you, and all its costs are OPEX, rather than having to budget for more CAPEX expenditures.

We’ll walk through all three approaches to backup and restore and help you decide which is best for your shop.

As the industry moved to multi-tier backup, two new terms were invented to express the new features such sophisticated backup offers– disaster recovery (DR) and business continuity (BC).  The terms, while separate, are highly related.  Just to be clear, though, in this piece we are focused on the data storage and recovery aspects of DR and BC, not broader DR and BC concerns (which can encompass mirrored infrastructure, personnel, and business process issues).

Backup Basics

Backup is the simplest of all the terms and is pretty self-evident, so I’ll make it short and sweet.

Backup is making a copy of your data, and storing it (hopefully) where it will be  easy to recover the data if the primary storage is compromised. Of course the biggest issue with backup is that you actually have to do it, make it part of your standard operating procedures, and test it to make sure you can recover.

This is often easier said than done. In the case of tape, failure to recover is shockingly high. The tape itself, being physical, can stretch, break or become corrupted. If you back up to disk, the process must be done properly so the data is still there, in the right format, and uncorrupted when you need it.

Your backup should be in a separate location.  Cloud backup, as I mentioned above, is increasingly becoming the first-tier choice for companies for several reasons – but one strength is that it automatically stores the backed up data offsite.

You can also backup your backup, which today is, again, increasingly happening in the cloud.

Disaster Recovery Fundamentals

Just like it sounds, DR is designed to protect your business in the event of a major crisis, whether it is a systems meltdown, natural disaster, fire, or other catastrophic event.  Keep in mind, however, that most research finds actual DR events are usually caused by mundane risks, not by freak events.

Respondents in a study by the Disaster Recovery Preparedness Council reported that major causes of outages and data loss are:

  •  50% software failure + network failure
  •  43.5% human error
  •  24% power failure
  •  14% weather

Another study showed that fully 95% of companies report DR events caused by something other than a natural disaster.

DR promises a full and total recovery of data, but doesn’t always include guarantees of how long that recovery will take. In fact, the recovery usually occurs in phases, with the most critical systems such as e-mail and CRM coming back first. Meanwhile, even if the data may be ready for recovery, IT likely still has make sure the servers, data center and all rest are ready for data restoration.

Of course, in general, the backed up data will not be available until after the disaster passes, and recovery can then be executed.

DR relies on full offsite backups of all your data and applications. In the early days, these backups were often tapes that were delivered to offsite backup sites such as those run by Iron Mountain and others. Nowadays, the offsite backup is usually in the cloud. Note that there must be more than one tier of backup for true safety.

DR for data is really all about  making sure that recent copies are fully preserved and available for recovery. It can also include redundant WAN links and backup PBX functionality so the phones and internet can be brought back up quickly. There should also be ways to reestablish the local area network so end users can share information and access corporate computing resources.

Keep It Going with Business Continuity

Business continuity (BC) is the highest and most complex of the three approaches. With it, your business keeps running no matter what happens to your primary storage.

BC is as much a process as it is technology, as it must encompass all the elements you need to keep your operations going.  Many BC providers handle the data aspects of keeping the business running, and here having fresh copies of all your data in the cloud is today’s best approach.

You can think of BC as handling backup and DR, and building the ability to recover seamlessly and instantly by failing over to the BC system. In this sense, DR is a critical subset of BC.

Enter Kaseya Backup and Disaster Recovery

Backup is critical but far too many companies – especially small and mid-sized companies – don’t do it properly or do it at all.  Fighting fires and other urgent issues can leave little time for ensuring the day-to-day processes, such as regular backups, are done strictly according to best practices.  Furthermore, not all data is created equal; some data should be backed up daily – maybe even hourly – while other data can be backed up at much longer intervals.

As I mentioned above, it’s not enough to back up your data; you also need to be confident that you can recover the data when needed.

Kaseya VSA can help ensure your backups are done properly and that restorations get you fully back up on your feet with Kaseya Backup and Disaster Recovery.

VSA leverages policy-based automation to make sure your backups are done regularly and at the right time.  You can set alerts to let you know when a backup has successfully completed or, equally importantly, when it hasn’t.

Where file-based backups only handle the data, Kaseya creates a backup image of your complete system state so the system, not just the data, is restored. Meanwhile these system backups can be replicated offsite for true disaster recovery.


Posted by Doug Barney
Doug Barney was the founding editor of Redmond Magazine, Redmond Channel Partner, Redmond Developer News and Virtualization Review. Doug also served as Executive Editor of Network World, Editor in Chief of AmigaWorld, and Editor in Chief of Network Computing.
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