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Importance of Data Backup and Restoration

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

Computers and data storage have come a long way since computers were invented. Data is generated in huge volumes by innumerable individuals and companies. It is not always possible to make hard copies of all that goes on in a computer. A backup of all the data, whether it is from banks, utilities, educational institutions, businesses or personal work, is imperative. On a small scale, data can be backed up on CDs and flash drives apart from the hard disk drives. These are far more evolved than the punch cards, magnetic tapes and floppy disks used some years back. However, magnetic tape backup is still in use today.

Importance of Backup

Backup does not mean just making a copy of the data and ignoring it. Backup is important because it makes the data available for continued use. More than making a backup of all data, the method to restore them to usability is critical. Also, backups have to be made consistently – not one-half of the database now and the other half later. Backing up large volumes of data and restoring them takes considerable time.

Organizations need to have a database administrator whose sole responsibility is to make a backup of all data and image files. It helps to make copies of entire hard drives by compressing the data and storing it. This provides archiving, but may hamper speedy restoration.

When disaster strikes, data recovery from the server or an entire data center may have to be done on the same site or at a different location. The backup method is considered good if it retrieves data in less time and fully in addition to providing a physically protected storage system.

Methods of Data Backup

Data backup may be of different types such as full backup, differential backup/incremental backup or agent based backup. Off-site data backup is another option to keep data safe in the eventuality of floods, fire and other natural disasters. Off-site backup serves as insurance, preventing complete loss of data.

Most backup technologies that have been used until now are no longer sufficient. Technological advances in agents and optimized network transmissions are still not advanced enough to bring the data back into production. Copying data does not ensure restoring the data.

The uncertainties and disadvantages enumerated above will give a picture of what we actually need in a back up solution. The method of making whole-server backups has become quite popular now. Servers are of different types, namely file servers, print servers, directory servers and Web servers.

New technologies even take care of files that are constantly in use and hence, open, such as the Windows registry, Active Directory’s database and some OS files. As these are open and constantly changing, they do not offer a complete file to be backed up. A technique available in backing up such files is Locked File Backup (LFB). The LFB logic may be embedded in the OS and it waits for a pause according to a preset time. During the pause, the LFB makes a copy to the backup application. Another technique is the Volume Shadow Copy (VSC) service from Windows. This keeps a local, on-volume backup of changed files. This will offer the previous version of the files to the backup application rather than the current version, which is open to change.

VSC is a native OS -level feature that allows administrators to specify the maximum amount of storage for a shadow cache. The service then automatically makes shadow files and will offer multiple old versions of a file. Windows Backup Server and Ntbackup support VSC.

Windows Server 2008 features Windows Server Backup, which can natively schedule backups and connect to remote servers and manage backups. The UI is optimized and it works on a file-by-file basis, although it makes a backup of entire volumes.

Based on different environments, companies can choose a technology like inter-site data replication, data rewinding and virtualization. Traditional backup-and restore solutions are also preferred by many companies. As a company grows, the problem becomes complicated and so a centralized recovery management system has to be put in place. The tools should integrate alert and notification so that data protection issues can be dealt with in a timely manner.

However, the latest in data backup and recovery is the use of virtualization techniques. Virtualization is used in server consolidation and in simplifying server management. This also helps in recovery management and disaster recovery. The technique allows standby sites to accommodate more systems while also maintaining standby separation between the systems.

Multiple virtual servers are run on a single host computer, thereby reducing costs involved in heating, power, racking hardware and network hardware. Server deployment is simplified with a reduction in the deployment time.

Backup sets will contain complete copies of organizational data and so they have to be protected by using the same security principles and layered security provided for the main server. Also, backup media will be portable and can be carried away easily. There should be an understanding of who will back up and restore data and who will authorize the process.

Only successful restoration ensures that the data was backed up optimally. So restore processes should be scheduled periodically to check the efficacy of the backup process. This will ensure that disaster recovery really works.

Data Backup in Asia

SafeComs Network Security Consulting in Thailand offers data backup solutions. Organizations can outsource data to such companies after verifying the degree of confidentiality, risk of disclosure and loss of data. Data loss can be avoided by proper encryption and secure storage methods. Using the services of such data backup providers also eases the work of the organization’s employees who are already burdened enough.

“The problem facing most inhouse IT staff,” says SafeComs CEO Bernard Collin, “is that given a choice between fixing an immediate problem that’s preventing a user from working right now and doing a scheduled backup, the immediate problem wins every time.”

This goes to show that in spite of backing up being important, it does not get done on time. Scheduled backups and restoration plans may not be attended to. To avoid such scenarios it is best to outsource the backup job. Backup providers take care of daily backup schedules and maintain the safety of all backed up data.

Safecoms has developed a backup system called SafeBox. It incorporates an operating system, two hard drives and an uninterrupted power supply. Data gets stored in a sealed drive during the day and at night the data is compressed, encrypted and stored in a second drive. Periodically the second drive is removed and stored in a secure, fireproof storage location offsite.

Such an automatic system with minimum human intervention and well-maintained records is a fitting backup solution for organizations.

Not just companies, but individual users are susceptible to data loss due to hard drive crashes or other reasons. Hong Kong based Acronis recently launched the Acronis True Image Home 2010 Plus Pack as an addon solution. It gives advanced home users an easy way to restore their files, applications and operating systems to dissimilar hardware.

The Universal Restore component ensures that if the machine is lost or stolen or in case a user wants to use another machine, the data and applications can be replicated to a physical or virtual machine. Users can restore dynamic volumes onto bare-metal disks or existing disks. The solution that supports WinPE allows users to install the latest Microsoft drivers, customized scripts, applications and plug-ins.

When users boot from their rescue media with Acronis True Image Home 2010, they are able to use more hardware than the existing one, and perform customized execution.

“Acronis has lately extended its consumer portfolio in order to meet specific home-user needs. The powerful features in this enhanced solution cater to home users seeking advanced backup and recovery capabilities, delivered in an easy to use format,” said Jason Donahue, president and CEO of Acronis.

Universal Restore ensures that all data is protected even if the user’s machine is lost or stolen.

Data de-duplication is another way to achieve data backup. Duplicates of data are made while storing data. This technique results in the making of multiple duplicates, which requires more storage. The redundant duplicate data can be removed by data de-duplication or single-instance storage. Only one copy of data is left, provided with data indexing, as it may have to be restored at some point in time.

In Asia, there is a significant growth in backup and recovery markets. Data de-duplication solutions are considered dependable, scalable and inexpensive as they reduce cooling and power requirements. In a virtual environment, data de-duplication is very useful, said Vivekanand Venugopal, VP, solutions, products and services, Asia-Pacific region for Hitachi Data Systems.

Kim Wang, of ESG -Sino, Enterprise Storage Group’s Greater China operations, said that the low-end backup market will expand, as there is a significant increase in awareness for backup systems. Companies are trying to implement them to reduce data de-duplication problems. Many companies like IBM, Dell, HP and Falconstor are looking towards the lucrative Asian market in this sector.

The presence of data domains is growing in the Asian storage market especially in the financial and telecom industries. Major markets are China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore and India. There is more awareness regarding disaster recovery and planning for business continuity. This has resulted in demand for backup by data de-duplication, use of disaster recovery and planning for its implementation.

The Asian market is fast adopting data backup implementations in spite of the economic downturn. They are striving to run their companies more efficiently and in real-time, making better use of their resources and optimizing the storage environment. IT budgets now include storage virtualization, tiered storage and data de-duplication. This will witness a growing demand for suitable data storage solutions in Asia.

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