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7 tips for better backups

By Deni Connor

When backing up and protecting your systems, don't just pay lip service to the best practices. When shopping for backup and recovery tools, make sure you choose products that help you perform these actions:

Just backing up your network isn't good enough. The reason you backup your network is so you can recover data if it is lost or in some way corrupted. You need to make sure that the copies of data you make are valid. Errors may occur in backing up servers – the backup window may not be large enough to accommodate the backup, tape malfunctions can occur, the backup may not capture every bit of data that it should or orphan servers, or volumes may exist that the backup process does not know about. You need to test the recoverability of your backups to ensure that business-critical data is being protected.

To have an effective backup strategy, you need to define your recovery time objectives and recovery point objectives for the different applications running on your network. The recovery time objective is the elapsed time between the occurrence of the disaster or loss of data until business operations are restored. The recovery point objective is the point in time before the disaster to which data will be restored. You need to classify your applications based on these objectives. Recovering a database first may be high on your list, followed by e-mail and finally, front-office document production.

While disk-based backups are increasing because they are faster to back up and recover than tape, you should consider also backing up to tape or replicating data to an offsite location. Doing this lets you extend your data protection, while preserving it at the primary location. If you don't back up to tape, consider some of the removable drives now coming to market – they serve not only as a reliable backup but they are also portable. If you replicate data to another location, consider the cost of that replication and the type of data that is being replicated. Synchronous replication, in which each data transfer is acknowledged, can be very expensive; asynchronous replication is less expensive, but may not be reliable enough for business-critical applications.

Backup reporting software will help you identify volumes or servers that are orphaned and are not being backed up. It will also let you evaluate your backup windows and determine if all applications and servers can be protected within it. Backup reporting software can identify media health and capacity, as well as tape library volumes that need to be ejected and shipped off-site. It can show drive utilization and let the user improve load balancing.

Whether it's encrypting backup tapes destined for off-site storage or encrypting data on disk, compliance and data leakage laws require it. Encrypt USB keys traveling out of the organization. Both hardware-based encryption appliances and software-only packages are available. Also consider what data you encrypt – it may not be necessary to encrypt applications, just the customer data those applications generate.

Virtual tape library technology will de-duplicate data during backups over time, often resulting in a savings of 20 to 1. Virtual tape libraries are becoming common because they emulated tape libraries and management. Consider the impact on your network of virtual tape libraries – some de-duplicate data as it is being backed up; other de-duplicate data after the backup process. Performance and the amount of disk space allocated to the backup are primary concerns.

That means that you back up not only all servers in your environment, but also the applications, laptops and desktops. In backing up the servers, plan on protecting the configuration files, updates and security patches. When backing up applications, be sure to also back up the data associated with the application and any log or configuration files. Implement software that backs up the laptops and desktops in your environment. Make provisions for the portable assets in your environments.

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