Server Backup Standards

We recommend at a minimum that our clients use Windows Server Backup (WSB) or NTBackup (NTB) to run daily backups to external hard disks (USB) and rotate the hard drives offsite.  The status of this backup must be emailed to two contacts on completion, so that any problems are detected immediately.  Test restores from backup should be carried out at least monthly.

Now that we’ve laid out our minimum standards for backups, let’s justify them:

Why WSB or NTB?

WSB and NTB are Microsoft backup programs included as components of Windows 2000, XP and 2003 (NTB) and Windows Server 2008 and 2008R2.  As such they are free software and inherently compatible with Windows OS.  They are also Exchange compatible backups, meaning that they allow you to restore mailboxes from the backup, and, crucially, the backups will clear the Exchange logs that would otherwise grow until they consume all available drive space.  Both backup systems are extensively used, and thus well–tested and easy to support.

Why USB Disks Instead of Tape?

Traditionally magnetic tape has been the medium of choice for data backup and archiving.  Historically this is because it was one of the only practical solutions – hard disks in the 80s and 90s were considerably smaller and more expensive.  Since 2000 however, advances in disk technology, USB and market changes made external drives a much more realistic proposition.

LTO-4 tapes have a spec of 120MB/s transfer speed,  USB 2.0 60MB/s and USB 3.0 up to 400MB/s.  An LTO-4 tape drive costs around £1K, with 400GB tapes at about £20/each.  You can buy 500GB USB 2.0 drives for around £35/each, and you don’t need a drive for them, just a USB port.

Crucially, disk based backups are far more portable.  With less tape drives around these days, how will the data be restored from tape if the server and tape drive are destroyed?  The cost and delays involved in procuring a compatible tape drive could be very painful indeed.  USB disks can be attached to almost all computers and servers in use today, accelerating the process of data recovery.

Backup Notification

I’m constantly amazed at how many businesses have backup systems that don’t notify them when the backup completes.  Backups can and do fail, due to conflicting programs, full disks, insufficient time allowed for the operation etc.  If no-one is notified of the failure then potentially weeks of data could be lost.

BlueCompute always nominates one contact to receive daily backup status emails, as well as forwarding a copy to ourselves for archiving.  Do you get notified of your backup status?

Test Restores

There are a few truisms in the world of data backup and recovery.  One is that it isn’t a backup unless it’s tested.  Without running test restores, what you end up with is a load of disks that may or may not contain the data intended and that you may or may not be able to restore that data from.

Backing up your company data doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive, but it does require planning and regular checks and maintenance.  At BlueCompute we use these minima not just for our clients’ peace of mind, but for ours as well.

There’ll be another blogpost on backups soon covering multi-site and multi-server disaster recovery, commercial backup programs and online backups.  Stay tuned.

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