We often read the phrase “Backup and Disaster Recovery” as if the two things were inexorably linked. In a way, they are. But backup is not disaster recovery. And, while you can’t have disaster recovery (DR) without having backups—you can back up your data without having a DR plan in place. Although it might seem cheaper and easier, it’s is a dangerous idea and one that could be very costly in the long run.
This point was one of many made by my colleague and OnRamp Founder, Chad Kissinger and GCS Technologies President Joe Gleinser, in May 2015. The two led a panel discussion titled “Disaster Recovery – Surprising Challenges” during which they discussed the elements of backup and disaster recovery and some of the confusion regarding the two terms. They briefly touched on the difference between data backup solutions and the process of implementing a DR plan with those backups. Mr. Gleinser pointed out that there is a lot of confusion surrounding the two and the discussion that ensued was an interesting one.
Backup vs. Data Recovery the Basics
The term “backup” seems simple enough to most of us—it’s the process of storing copies of your data in case some failure—machine or human—causes your primary data to disappear or become corrupted. As mentioned in the conversation captured in the video above, data recovery happens all the time. Whether an employee deletes a file in error or something happens that requires you to reload your data, the backup serves as the information that you restore.
But in order to restore data, you need to have a place and an environment where the data can reside. And that’s where disaster recovery comes into play— when you have lost your IT environment. A disaster can be something as large as a hurricane that wipes out your entire data center or as small as temporarily losing power or connectivity to your servers or primary site. A DR plan enables you to restore functionality and access to your data and systems via a secondary environment and then transfer it all back to your primary environment after the disaster has ended.
The fundamental difference between backup and disaster recovery is pretty straightforward:
- Backup is the process of saving your data in a secure location (on-site or off-site) to restore to a working environment when you need it.
- Disaster recovery is a larger process that replicates your entire computing environment – data, systems, networks, and applications—as part of your business continuity plan and restores it all after the crisis has passed.
The goal of both processes is to ensure that you don’t lose valuable data and that you have the ability to restore it should something impact that negatively. Thanks to current technology and the use of virtual machines and cloud computing environments, data backup can be done concurrently with the replication that is necessary for a good disaster recovery environment.
Virtualization to the Rescue
With virtual environments, data can be easily backed-up during the replication of a given virtual machine (VM) while also replicating the application software, local data, settings, and memory required to create a complete copy. Before virtualization, a backup and DR environment would have had to be a complete physical copy of the one you were running in your primary site—whether that was just one server or an entire data center. The data that had been backed up would need to be manually loaded from tapes or other media. Today, a good DR solution replicates the data constantly without requiring an entirely duplicate setup. The time to restore and the ability to failover with minimal disruption is significantly shorter and can even appear seamless to the end user.
Backup and Disaster Recovery are Complementary Functions
Data backup can be as simple as copying files to a thumb drive or as complicated as keeping multiple time-stamped copies of the data in a secondary virtual hosted environment. The goal is to make sure that you have access to and can restore to the ‘last known point of good data’ in the event that you lose data.
Disaster recovery is more complicated than backup. DR requires advanced planning, preparation, and training for a systems outage. You must have the ability to transfer operations to a secondary site that duplicates your environment and data—something that can be done in-house, but is much more cost effective for a small to mid-sized business (SMB) when done by a good service provider. Disaster Recovery as a Solution (DRaaS), when implemented by a reputable managed services provider, can provide near-zero time recovery and failover, fail-back service.
Both backup and disaster recovery are essential to making sure that your business doesn’t grind to a halt due to data loss or environment outages. What does your data backup strategy look like? Equally, if not more important, what does your disaster recovery plan entail? What challenges do you and your team face when it comes to data backup and disaster recovery? I’d love to hear your thoughts.