Posey's Tips & Tricks

Top 4 Overlooked Features of a Data Backup Strategy

When it comes to implementing an airtight backup-and-recovery plan, these are the four must-have features that many enterprises nevertheless tend to forget.

One of my key philosophies regarding backups has always been that backups should be your last line of defense against data loss, not your first. I say this because in most cases, if you are restoring a backup, it means that something really bad has happened and that other methods for putting everything back to normal have failed.

That being the case, it is extraordinarily important for an organization to have complete confidence that the backup will be 100 percent effective at restoring its data. Having confidence in one's backup often comes from extensive backup-and-recovery testing, but it also comes from having a backup solution in place that's flexible enough to handle whatever type of situation you may find yourself in.

With that in mind, I want to talk about some of the backup capabilities that I tend to think of as being the most important, but are very easily overlooked.

1. Data Immutability
When it comes to must-have backup features, I put data immutability at the top of the list. Some types of ransomware actually attack backups in an effort to make data unrecoverable. As such, you need to have some way of making sure that your backups cannot be altered.

You might accomplish this through a blockchain-based solution or through something as simple as removable media -- the actual mechanism doesn't matter. The important thing is to make sure that ransomware cannot harm your backups.

2. Recovery at Scale
Another important capability to consider is recovery at scale. Discussions of backup solutions often center around metrics such as recovery time objective (RTO) and recovery point objective (RPO). As important as these metrics may be, they can be a bit misleading.

In many cases, the RTO is based on the amount of time that it takes to recover a single resource such as a physical server or a virtual machine. Because ransomware is increasingly being designed to work at scale, organizations have to start thinking about situations in which it is necessary to recover dozens of servers.

Granted, the solution to large-scale disasters is usually to failover to the cloud or to a secondary datacenter, but doing so might not always be an option. If high numbers of servers are brought down by ransomware, the disaster recovery solution may replicate the damage to the failover site, thereby corrupting it, too. That's why it is so important to consider your ability to recover at scale.

3. Restoring to a Different Platform
Yet another important thing to think about is your ability to restore data to a dissimilar environment. As I said at the very beginning of this column, backups should be treated as the last line of defense against data loss. If a situation is so dire that you have resorted to restoring a backup, then you really want to make sure that nothing gets in the way of a successful restoration.

At the same time, it is impossible to predict with any certainty the chain of events that might have led to you having to perform a restoration. While it is possible that the event was relatively minor, and that it is possible to simply launch a restore job and put everything back the way that it was, it is also possible that there is severe damage to your infrastructure and that restoring virtual machines to their original location is out of the question.

In that type of situation, you really want a backup solution that is flexible enough to restore your virtual machines to whatever platform might be available, whether that platform is a competing hypervisor or even a cloud-based platform.

4. Searchability
Finally, there is one more backup feature that is easy to overlook and yet really important. A good backup solution should ideally be equipped with a built-in search engine.

As we all know, data grows exponentially from one year to the next. At the same time, IT infrastructures are far more dynamic than ever before. Containers are created and destroyed on a whim. Virtual machines are live-migrated from one host to another to another.

Having a search engine integrated into your backup solution will not only make it far easier to find the data that you are trying to recover, it will also allow you to start the recovery job more quickly.

As I said before, this is by no means a comprehensive list of features to look for in a backup solution. I just wanted to take the opportunity to talk about a few features that are important, but easy to overlook.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 16-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.

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