Tactical Advice

The Difference Between Backup and Disaster Recovery

Effective DR strategies require better data protection, offsite storage and regular testing.
The Difference Between Backup and Disaster Recovery

“Back up! Back up! Back up!” Computer users are continuously barraged with this exhortation, from their operating system, coworkers and IT groups at work. But backup is only the first level of data protection. The second level is disaster recovery, which gets people’s attention and moves backup to the “business saving” category.

Backup allows you to replace personal data files that are lost through human error or equipment failure. Click the wrong file and hit “delete,” and you start scrambling to find your backup files. Even a personal disaster, such as losing your notebook computer, remains more in the backup area than disaster recovery.

But don't assume DR applies only to catastrophic natural disasters that make the news. Disasters on a small scale can be just as devastating.

Say, for example, that there’s a break-in at your business, and a server is stolen. If you have a good backup system, saved files will have been stored on a separate shared-disk system. But guess what? Thieves will steal that too. When operations for your entire business are disrupted, you have a disaster on your hands.

Three Areas to Improve

There are three areas you must improve to upgrade from a backup plan to a disaster recovery strategy: protect more data, store it at an offsite location, and test DR processes regularly.

First, you need to protect more than just your data files as part of a DR solution, because after a disaster, recovery time is critical. By making an image of the disk drives in your computers and servers, you can restore them completely much faster than restoring the operating system and then copying over the backed up data files.

Two types of products can help here: Bare Metal Restore software (most modern backup products now have this option), and virtual server file-imaging software. Virtual servers, with the right backup software, are easy to recover after a disaster. If a server is stolen, all you need is new hardware and an hour to restore the image, and you’re back in business.

Second, you need to store backup data offsite. Hundreds of Internet-based backup vendors are available for a small monthly fee based on your storage needs. But offsite doesn’t necessarily mean “on the Internet.” If you have two business locations, sending backup files for Location 1 to Location 2, and vice versa, works great. You may need to upgrade your routers if you haven’t done so in several years to better manage the traffic, but there are no recurring fees for offsite storage within the company.

Finally, test and retest your backup processes to verify that your backups work, that you can transfer the recovered files quickly and accurately, and that your tech staff know what to do. The only way to verify the process is to run test restorations on a regular basis. When you have a glitch, either in process or training, spend the time and money to fix it before you need to recover data for real.

Disasters are never fun. But being prepared by upgrading your backup process to a disaster recovery strategy will get you back to business in a hurry.

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About the Author

James E. Gaskin

James E. Gaskin

James writes books, articles and jokes about technology from his Dallas-area home office. He also consults for those who don’t read his books and articles.

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