Posey's Tips & Tricks

When To Back Up IT Infrastructure: 4 Things To Consider

We all know that it's important to back up your data, but should you also be backing up your IT infrastructure? This question has been the subject of debate for as long as I can remember and, to be perfectly honest, I'm not sure there's a universally applicable answer to the question. As such, I wanted to take the opportunity to share some of my thoughts on the subject.

When it comes to the question of whether you should be backing up your IT infrastructure, there are any number of factors to consider. Some of these factors include the organization's size, the infrastructure's technical complexity, the IT staff's skill level, service-level agreements (SLAs) that may be in place and the extent to which the organization is virtualized.

1. Organization Size
One of the first things to consider is the organization's size. If you are a small organization with a handful of servers, backing up the IT infrastructure is a no-brainer. Backing up infrastructure items (such as server boot volumes and system volumes) typically won't require significant resources beyond what you are already using to protect your data. Never mind the fact that having full system backups of each of your servers is going to make it a lot easier to put everything back to normal in the event that something bad happens.

If, on the other hand, you are working for a huge organization with 10,000 servers, making infrastructure backups would require a huge amount of effort and storage resources. This is not to say that larger organizations shouldn't back up their IT infrastructure. There are other things to consider, and in some cases it is possible that the IT infrastructure is already being backed up. I will talk about some of these additional considerations in the sections below.

2. Technical Complexity and IT Skill Level
One of the big things you need to think about when deciding whether to back up your IT infrastructure is the infrastructure's complexity and the IT department's skill level. In other words, how difficult and time-consuming would it be to put everything back to normal if there were a problem?

Let me give you a couple of examples of this from my own organization. I have a few Hyper-V servers on my network that I do not back up. I back up the production virtual machines (VMs) that are hosted on those servers, but I don't back up Hyper-V itself. The reason for this is that it would take me less time to simply reinstall Hyper-V than to jump through all of the hoops involved in setting up a job to perform a bare-metal restore of my Hyper-V servers. The key to this, however, is that there is nothing technically complex about the way that those servers are configured.

On the other hand, I do have a backup of other infrastructure components such as my router's configuration, one of my domain controllers and my DNS server. Those are things that would be tough -- or time-consuming -- to manually reconfigure.

3. SLAs
Another thing you have to think about is any SLAs that your organization has in place, and any mechanisms that exist for the purpose of maintaining those SLAs.

If, for example, your organization has the ability to automatically fail over to the cloud or to a remote datacenter, you probably have ample time to fix problems that occur in your primary datacenter. On the other hand, if you have a tight SLA and no failover capabilities, it may make sense to back up any critical infrastructure so that the infrastructure can be brought back online as quickly as possible following a failure.

4. Virtualization
One more thing to consider is how heavily your organization is virtualized. If all of your infrastructure servers (domain controllers, DHCP servers, RRAS servers and so on) exist as VMs and you are backing up your virtualization hosts, those infrastructure servers are probably already being backed up as part of your normal backup.

The only thing you'd have to think about in that case is whether there are other devices -- such as hardware appliances -- that you need to be backing up.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 19-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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