Backups in a SOHO or SME environment.

We've come across it more times than we care to mention. Companies that spend very little time on their backup needs. That is until a problem occurs and they really need that data they just lost, either simply losing man-hours or expensive data or having to pay for expensive data recovery services.

This is usually the point we are brought in by new customers!

So what happens if data is not backed up and there is no preparation for disaster?

The simplest scenario is a hard drive failure on one of the PCs (not so much of a problem with servers with RAID). As time goes on this gets more and more likely. Hard drives being mechanical devices are the most prone component to fail. Recovery of a single hard drive can cost upwards of £700 and may still not restore all the data. Other scenarios include accidental deletion over network shares, corruption of data to the worst case scenario of all you equipment and premises lost due to a larger disaster e.g. the building burning down, in which case any backups stored on-site will also be destroyed or simply the laptop with all the data on is lost or stolen.

What are the options?

New tape backup device, and new tapes.

Typically deployed to server enviroments.

  • Costs :-
    • Tape drive - few hundred to a few thousand.
    • Tapes - dependant on drive bought. Current prices are £30+
    • Labour in installation and training, changing tapes and backup tests
  • Advantages :-
    • large storage capacity.
    • Backups can be automated to a degree.
    • A history of data can be built up by keeping old tapes e.g. one a month.
  • Disadvantages :-
    • tape is the least reliable method of backing up in my opinion, it still needs a member of staff to be responsible for changing, monitoring and verifying tapes which would also include training when members of staff leave.
    • Typical backup software included is usually more complicated than it needs to be for a small company.

CD/DVD-Recordable device
  • Costs:-
    • Drive - very cheap
    • DVD's - extremely cheap
    • Labour - Quick setup, but constant maintenance in backing up, verifying, labeling and storing.
  • Advantages :-
    • very cheap and storage suitable for some companies.
    • Backup is usually reliable although is completely manual.
    • A DVD stores 4.3Gb or 9Gb and is a small storage capacity compared to some data stores, hard drives and tapes.
  • Disadvantages :-
    • completely manual backups
    • because of this large room for error or simply forgetting (or putting off) the backup. Then they need to be taken offsite.

Online Backup
  • Costs :-
    • Zero equipment setup cost, simply pay for what you backup.
    • Installation and configuration around 15-30 minutes
    • Can be set up and even maintained by non-technical staff.
  • Advantages :-
    • A simple and fully automated backup solution, backups are automatically offsite every single night.
    • Incremental versions are kept and so you can recover a file in any state up to 90 days or 10 backups previously.
    • Piece of mind, backups are occuring correctly as if not you get an email.
    • No real need to monitor, check or rotate the backups.
  • Disadvantages :-
    • while setup costs are zero, ongoing costs may be slightly more expensive than backing up and monitoring yourself.
    • Can be more costly with very extremely large backup requirements.

Removable external harddrives
  • Costs :-
    • Labour - quick to set up.
    • Large External hard drives are cheap, and are always dropping in price or getting larger for the same price.
  • Advantages :-
    • Drives are very reliable, especially when compared to tapes and generally need much less maintenance.
    • Very fast to backup and restore from.
    • Very useful as a secondary backup
  • Disadvantages :-
    • still needs a member of staff to monitor, rotate and take one drive offsite on a regular basis.
    • More than one backup drive is recommended so it can be swapped to rotate data offsite.

Our Conclusion

   These days we recommend online backup to everyone with less than 100Gb to backup. Online backup has less to go wrong, no set-up costs, needs very little attention compared to other solutions, and it is automatically off site every night and encrypted in a secure data warehouse without any user intervention. If there is an issue with the backup, an email is sent to the administrative contact for the backup.
   We also like to have a USB drive onsite for a fast alternative backup system. Backup is important and doing it twice is not overkill, for several reasons - one is that Murphy's Law dictates that the day you need the backup it's failed the night before or you find some other problem, and secondly if you want a large (for instance 1Gb) file restored quickly then waiting for online backup can frustrate some people (even though it's there).
   With a combination of USB and online backup you cover yourself and also allow for fast restoration on-site or slow and reliable restore from offsite.
   Finally enabling Shadow Copy and imaging your drive using something like DriveImageXML or Acronis True Image can help save that last bit of sanity, when it comes to recovering previous versions easily or whole systems.

There are many online suppliers these days, from cheap providers aimed at the home market an onwards. We at runPCrun recommend two providers -

  • BackupDirect*, simply because we've found BackupDirect's staff to be both friendly and helpful every time we've dealt with them and the quality of the product high. Based on the famous Iron mountain Backup solution and their prices are higher than some, but it is a comprehensive UK solution.
  • MozyPro  (and we recommend MozyHome to home users) - A solid US provider, cheaper than BackupDirect. However some people have issues putting their data overseas. If this isn't a problem then MozyPro is a good solution.

Other backup solutions we have used and look good (but haven't used enough to recommend thoroughly) are:-

If you're still not convinced, why not try a 15 day free trial at BackupDirect* and then relax knowing you've protected your business from disaster.Or you can ring runPCrun for some more advice for your business backup strategy.

* means there is some referal or partnership with these suppliers via the links given. Check out our stance on reviews and recommendations.




You may be interested in another way of doing disk-to-disk backup. Please, have a look at
Z1 GEM has removable disks and runs full backup internally at night. (plus additional frequent snapshots if required).
As you say - the disk needs to be replaced and taken away. Also, for daily backups, an additional disk is recommended - so that one is off-site - no matter what.
However - the advantage is that that the backup is done without any human intervention and the off-site disk contains the full system and data and boots in an off-the-shelf server. Also - during the day, all the data from previous day are readily available - read-only.

Best Regards

Richard Zybert