Don’t talk to me about backup strategy, please.  Backups alone are not worth the media they’re written to.  The question you should MUST be able to answer is: “What are you doing to make sure you can RECOVER from catastrophy?”

“I keep my stuff on tape.”

Data Storage

“…Lots of tapes.”

Data StorageData StorageData StorageData StorageData StorageData StorageData Storage

Good.  You’re better off than the people who were told by their consultant to just keep putting the tape back in every night, and expect that it has popped out with the backup done by the time you arrive in the morning. 

Ahem… Did you know that your tape  is not guaranteed to contain any readable data if you use it over and over again like that?  Did you know that for the past several weeks/months/years you’ve been re-inserting a tape cassette that for all you know has a broken tape within it?!

Who me?

“Kevin… why are you so animated about simple backups?”

Backups?  RESTORES!… BUSINESS INTEGRITY and CONTINUANCE!  Haven’t you been paying attention?!

…but I digress… 

Actually, what started me on this rant was a a very interesting email conversation I had with a new acquaintence from one of our live events in Madison.  This gentleman shared with us his site where we could download lots of funny videos.  (No… I won’t share the link to his site without his permission.  Sorry. )  And yesterday he emailed me with an interesting dilemma.  One of his customers (he is a consultant) is dead-set against tape

They are dead set against tape.  The server is going to be high-end raid 5, but they don't want the "hassle" of tape.  They want a hard disk they can take home every night, like a Maxtor One Touch.  I always have a headache coming out of there.  Can you point me to a recent whitepaper on tape to help support the issue of backups?

I’ll get to some resources in a minute.  But my first response to my friend was, “Hey, I agree.  Tape is not a good choice for backup.”

“Huh?!”

Well.. I think most people these days are using hard-disk backup solutions now, right?  At least as far as being able to QUICKLY RESTORE something that does awry, it’s a great solution.  Heck.. for many, the built-in support of Shadow Copies for Shared Folders is a great way to let your own users recover from their own mistakes.  What is it?  It’s a data backup and recovery solution that uses a disk volume.  Quick.  Easy.  No need to call you, Mr.-or-Ms. System Administrator, to have to pull out tapes or even run some recovery tool for them.

“So Kevin… Maybe we should separate the topics of Data Backup and Recovery from Disaster Recovery?”

BINGO! 

Yes, disk solutions are good for backup and quick recovery of the most recent data.  But until hard disks are cheap enough to keep buying a new one every week just to store it in a vault somewhere, other, cheaper removable media will still be necessary. 

There are many things to consider, starting with this great question my friend mentioned in his emails:

When I started in technology 20 years ago, one of my mentors told me something that I still use today.  ‘The rule about backups is that you only backup as often as you can afford to lose data.  Tell your clients that and it puts the responsibility back on them.’  When you bring that up to a client and ask them, ‘If you had a major disaster, how much would it hurt your business to not have your data or current data?’  After they all get over the deer-in-the-headlights look, it's a no-brainer.

Excellent. 

Also – do you have any business requirements for data archival?  Are there any mandates or legal requirements to make sure you can recover any and all data that has ever existed on your file servers?  Databases?  Email data stores?

And finally – you MUST test recovery.  If you’re a consultant, don’t let your customers down by assuming that their tapes are working.  Test the restore on a separate server.  Make sure you can recover to the level that is expected (and you’ve had that discussion with management at the beginning of developing this plan, right?  They need to tell you exactly what the expectations are to bring the company back to life in some acceptable way and timeframe… and you need to verify that this is now supported by TESTING the recovery.)

Here’s a great PCWorld Article on Microsoft’s new System Center Data Protection Manager (DPM).  At the end of the article is a very telling statement from Ben Matheson, group product manager for DPM at Microsoft, about why Tape is not going away any time soon:

"DPM doesn't really replace anything; it's designed to be complementary," Matheson says. "Ninety percent or more customers rely on tape backup, but when it comes time to do recovery, it's slow and unreliable ... we are advocating that customers have a disk-to-disk-to-tape backup scenario."

Here are some resources for more information:

Backup Technical Reference

Disaster Recovery

Best Practices for Backup

And please, if you have any, stories, hints, rants, 2 bit opinions, or links to additional resources, add a comment below so others can benefit from your knowledge/wisdom/humor/experiences.

Happy RECOVERY!