Developing a Cost-Effective Backup and Disaster Recovery Strategy

Posted by Ben Austin on Feb 18, 2015 6:21:00 AM


No matter what organization you're working for, IT budget is always going to be tight. And while it's becoming more and more obvious that it is well worth investing in security and data protection, CIOs still have to fight for every cent that their team wants to spend. 

I recently came across a report from last year that said, on average, the IT budget in a company ranges somewhere between 4-6% of the company's revenue. Consider then that backup-related costs will make up less than 10% of IT budget, and you're looking at a very slim amount of your company's budget that is devoted to a fairly important aspect of keeping the business up and running.

So, how do you make sure that you're making the most out of the budget that have for your backup needs, and how do you ensure that your business continuity plan is up to snuff? It's important to understand that a true backup and disaster recovery strategy isn't just about being able to recover your data and get back to a normal state within some identified time frame. A truly effective backup plan enables your organization (and your end-clients) to continue performing mission critical operations before, during, and after an issue - foreseen or not - occurs.

Looking at this through the eyes of business efficiency, let's consider a few ways to help tighten up a backup plan in a way that will save money in the long-term without putting your, or your customers', data in jeopardy in the short-term.

A Tool is Not a Plan

Yes, this is a basic and obvious concept. But, in reality, there are organizations out there that simply set up a tool, or a number of tools, and assume that they've done their due diligence. Honestly, purchasing a product, setting it up, and making sure it's functioning correctly is a good start, but if that's where your strategy stops then you're setting yourself up for some unhappy surprises.

Just getting the ball rolling usually seems like the most painful part, but once you make it a priority it can be fairly simple. Sit down with your team and start asking questions:

  • What common situations could potentially lead to data loss or a breach?
  • Who is responsible for assessing this type of situation?
  • How will each of these situations be handled?
  • Who needs to be responsible for what actions?
  • At what point should issues be communicated externally?
  • What kind of follow-up is expected in each situation?

If your team is able to answer all of those questions, document the answers, and circulate the plan internally you are likely going to be ahead of the game. However, it's important to note that planning is not a one-time thing. Your team should come together regularly, whether it's monthly or quarterly, just to make sure your plan is still effective and up-to-date.

It may also be worth running a data disaster drill once a year to test the plan and make sure all parties are ready fill their role. That way, your co-workers understand that this is a practical plan, rather than some theoretical proposal that goes out the window when an actual issue comes up. 

Utilize a single, consolidated backup manager

While the backup solution you choose shouldn't be seen as your entire strategy, your strategy should be largely reliant on the capabilities of that tool. And yes, I did say "backup solution," as in... singular.

A lot of people think about backup managers as safety nets and assume that having two or three of them is a good thing. The more the merrier, right? Wrong. The most likely reason you'd need multiple backup solutions at a single organization is because you are using one solution for a certain feature, and another solution for another feature. For instance, many backup providers are restricted to a single operating system, so you may need one solution for Linux and one for Windows. 

Even if you're not paying for the multiple systems, it's still costing more in man-hours to maintain each different system. Not only that, but it turns out that the more products or vendors you rely on for your backup strategy, the more likely you are to experience downtime and data loss. This is because each of those safety nets is only partially protecting or backing up your data, as opposed to having a single, all-encompassing safety net to fall back on.

The point here: Do your research when you're selecting a backup solution. Ask as many questions as you can to find out which solution best fits your organization's needs. Don't go out and spend a ton of money for a product that you don't need, but also don't try to patch together a bunch of mediocre products that don't fulfill your needs. Take the time, find the solution that fits your specific needs, and invest in it.

Replication, Replication, Replication

Having the ability to run at full strength even when a server, or an entire location, is temporarily offline is a huge advantage. Realistically, redundancy enables you to limit the damaging effects of downtime, and can help keep a smooth and consistent customer experience even when you're dealing with a disaster internally. 

When you are going through the pros and cons of a backup solution, be sure that the ability to replicate, whether onsite, offsite, or in the cloud, is a major priority. Even if you have to pay more upfront for a tool that has robust replication capabilities, I promise that it will more than pay for itself as soon as you actually need it.

Know Your Limitations

This is where reality hits. Every strategy, tool, and organization has its limitations. No, you don't want to have huge gaps in your backup strategy, but you also can't ignore the fact that some weak points are innevitable. The only thing worse than having a major flaw in your strategy is pretending as though it doesn't exist.

Maybe you're only able run backups every two days due to server performance. Maybe the recovery process takes longer than you'd like. Whatever your limitations may be, recognize them, get ahead of them when possible, and be forthcoming about them with your customers when issues come up.

This is especially true if you organization has service level agreements with your customer-base. If you aren't realistic about your ability to handle these types of issues, you are only going to bite yourself in the butt down the road.

What other tips do you have for developing a sustainable, cost-effective backup and recovery plan? Share your insights in the comment section below.


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Topics: server backup, backup strategy

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