Too often in this industry people jump the gun and make major decisions based on limited information or short-sighted business needs. To be honest, I understand that it's easy to skip over some of the fundemendal steps of this decision when you have dozens of end-users breathing down your neck to provide them with a backup solution -- aka, a Web hosting insurance policy.
Still, it's important for your business that you recognize the long-term impact that this choice will have on you and your customers before you rush into a years-long agreement. It may seem tedious, but here's a list of the handful of questions that you must ask and thoroughly consider before choosing to purchase a new server backup solution.
1. How often should I back up?
This should be your first question when you’re starting to hunt for a new backup service provider. It’s not necessarily the most crucial question you'll ask, but it will give you a sense for how the rest of the conversation is going to go.
If someone tells you that you really only need to back up your servers every weekend or at the end of each day then they most likely aren’t putting a high value on the data you and your end-users are backing up. Keeping that data safe is pertinent to your business, and losing even a day’s worth of information can be extremely detrimental to your reputation and profitability.
On the other hand, some providers may give you the generic, “as often as you’d like,” which should immediately raise some red flags. At this point you need to start asking questions like, “how badly will that cripple my server?” and “why won’t you just give me a direct answer so we can move on?”
Out of the box, we recommend that our partners perform hourly backups. Because ours are done at the block level, it is possible to perform backups every 20 or 15 minutes if you’d prefer, but we don’t feel the need to encourage every business we work with to do this. We’ve found that hourly backups provide a good balance of server stability while also making sure that, if disaster does strike, you have a very recent restore point to fall back on.
2. How long will a full restore take?
I wouldn't say this to scare anyone into buying backup software, but disasters do occasionally happen. That’s just an unavoidable fact of life. Having a backup solution is a great first step in recovering from a disaster. Still, it’s not always enough just to know that you’ve got a safety net.
When your servers do fall down, how long is it going to take you to pick them back up? This is something that you need to push your backup provider to answer matter-of-factly. Will you lose days of your time waiting for a full restore to take hold? Will you lose customers as a result of a single incident? And does your potential service provider even care enough to provide you with an answer?
Honestly, the answer to this is going to change -- not only for every backup solution, but for every Web hosting provider. Depending on your configuration and the amount of data you’re trying to restore, it may take hours or it may take days. Regardless, it’s up to you to give whoever is providing your backup as much information about your system as you can, ask them for their opinion, and then hold them to that answer when the inevitable 3 AM phone call takes place.
3. What pricing models do you offer?
This is a dollar and cents business. Any amount of money that you can save when choosing a service provider is going to help out with your bottom line. You do have to weigh out the cost in dollars with the cost in time and frustration that comes with a cheaply built backup solution, but that’s another story.
Find a provider that will be completely open and honest about pricing. Find someone who will get on the phone and spell it all out to you in black and white. And don’t go with someone who is going to burn you by adding tick-tack costs for every little plugin or additional hooz-a-whatzit. Those minor fees will slowly sink your profit margin while the backup provider laughs all the way to the bank.
Try to find a provider that will be open, flexible, and upfront with all their costs. Find out whether they will sell you the solution for a one-time fee or whether they will allow you to lease the software for 12 or 24 months. Make sure their system is going to fit with what you need, and not the other way around.
4. What machines do you support?
Obviously, this is something that will come up at some point during your search, but it’s important to think about this question in a broader perspective than most people usually do. The question shouldn't be, “do you jive with my OS right now?” You've got to consider the potential for your own growth and expansion a year or two down the road, and you have to make sure that whatever decision you make today will scale to your needs in the future.
Just because you're relying on Red Hat or Debian servers today doesn't mean that you won't expand outside that box in the future. And just because your servers are solely hosted in the cloud today doesn't mean you won't need to purchase physical servers at some point in the future. Either way, make sure your backup provider will scale with you and enable your market growth, rather than hinder it.
5. Besides basic backup and restore, how does this product fit with my company's needs?
If you're just looking for a basic tool that will allow you to backup and restore data, you'll probably find a handful of very cheap software solutions that will fit your needs. But you have to ask yourself whether or not that is actually what you are looking for.
Backup service providers should be able to both lower your stress levels and raise your bottom line. Offerings that include offsite replication can do the former by giving you the peace of mind that if an actual disaster does occur, your data is safe and sound at a completely different geographical location. This is a huge value add because it allows you to have complete confidence that your most valuable asset, your data, is not entirely invested in a single geographic location.
It's also important to make sure that the product isn't just compatible with your in-house infrastructure, but also with other third-party vendors that you rely on. If you're a Web hosting provider, does the backup solution integrate with your control panel? Are you going to be forced to manage every backup and restore for your end-clients, or do you have the ability to distribute some of that responsibility to the customers who want to do it themselves?
And finally, is it possible for your company to directly drive revenue by utilizing this product. Are you simply hoping to be a customer of this backup provider, or do you want to become a partner and reseller? Regardless of your answer, it's important that all of this comes under consideration at some point during your decision.
If you're going to invest in a backup solution, it's worth it take the time and ask the right questions to ensure that the provider you choose is going to likewise be invested in your success.
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