Why Image-based Backups Trump the Competition for Disaster Recovery

Why Image-based Backups Trump the Competition for Disaster Recovery

October 27

A customer recently contacted me in a panic about how she’d lost all of her short stories, blog posts, and other writings to some computer problems. I thought telling her she needed to invest in some good backup software was stating the obvious, but was stunned when she hit me with this generic excuse: “I thought of doing that but I never thought something like this would happen so I never bothered.”

Consumers are often behind on technology so maybe this was just a case of a PC user who lacked awareness. The same can’t be said for the 40 percent of SMBs that reportedly don’t backup their data at all. There shouldn’t be any excuses when you’ve got so much to lose that the next disaster could put your business under.

Backup Battalion Saves World from Intergalactic Data Disasters
by sounas.

From Visually.

The backup and disaster recovery space can be very confusing for newbs and even a bit intimidating for IT pros who are familiar with the concept. Today’s marketplace is full of products that offer an answer to the problem, but how do you find the right solution? It starts with understanding the technologies at the core of the process. From files to objects to images, there are a few options at your disposal, and each takes its own unique approach to data protection.

Disaster Recovery: One File at a Time

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File-based backups were once the standard for desktop and server applications. By making copies of each individual file, this method made backups easily accessible for just about anyone. File-based products are generally easy to navigate and capable of backing up data on massive file servers. The simplicity was a tremendous luxury for the office worker who may have needed to quickly recover a single Word doc or Excel spreadsheet.

Drawbacks of  the file-level approached were exposed as the digital universe expanded. Companies with hundreds of servers and thousands of files to account for eventually learned that it was insufficient for their long-term needs. When you’re only working on a set number of files on a given day, backing up everything on that big ol’ server just doesn’t make a lot of sense. And after realizing that duplicating open files was problematic, it became clear that a better solution was needed.

A New “Object” for Data Protection

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Backups, for the most part, are based on file storage methodologies. For example, object-based storage (OBS) works by tucking data in little storage bins called objects. These objects are made of small amounts of data, metadata, and a unique identifier. In object-based backups, the slimmer objects are copied rather than the chunkier whole files. In theory, this results in a process that is faster and more efficient than the traditional file-based method.

The object-oriented approach to backup and disaster recovery offers seemingly irresistible efficiency and scaling opportunities. Still, it’s not always the best choice for data protection. For starters, OBS products lack standardization, so integration with existing apps can be problematic. Security can also be an issue. While backups can be encrypted, OBS typically relies on file sharing protocols like NFS and CIFS, which have long been deemed insecure by IT security experts.

The “Image” of the Complete BDR Solution

Image-based backups are founded on a concept that is so simple it’s genius! This technique creates an image that contains the entire contents of your system in one file. From there, incremental backups are made to keep track of changes. The image file allows for easy travel when facilitating P2V conversions or other disaster recovery related migration efforts. Products like ShadowProtect further build on the idea of simplicity by making image-based backup software management a matter of point and click convenience.

The initial downside of the image-based concept was the sort of all or nothing approach. For instance, you couldn’t just restore a single file if you needed to. You had to go through the process of recovering the entire disk. But this technology has come a long way, and some tools are even capable of recovering individual files from those images.

When it comes to high-volume data protection, image-based backups are arguably the safest bet you can make. The case gets even more compelling when we break down the following benefits:

  • Fast and full restores. Image-based software fully restores systems faster than most other methods. Recovery times are even faster in products armed with features such as deduplication.
  • Bare metal capable. The ability to record every bit of system data makes this method ideal for physical, virtual, or even bare metal recovery.
  • Better security by nature. By default, image-based backups offer better security than file- and objected-based techniques. This is because your copies generally are not vulnerable to the underlying operating system, applications, or network connections.
  • Destination diversity. Recovery operations can be seamlessly executed across WANs and LANs to a wide variety of media.

What’s Your First Choice For Backup?

Some people give generic answers. Some people shell out generic advice. I could easily sell the notion that there is no right or wrong way to backup your data. That as long you as understand the importance of disaster recovery planning, any ole tech will do. Sounds nice, but I’d say it’s downright irresponsible in this case. Not all backup solutions are created equal. Nor do they offer the same level of protection.

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The backup method you choose will have a lot to say about the effectiveness of your data protection strategy. And more than likely, that strategy could be vital to your customer base as well. As a provider of managed backup and disaster recovery solutions, it is your responsibility to make the process as efficient as possible for the client. Can you really afford to be selective with their data protection needs? Because that is essentially the game you play when opting for a file-based backup solution. Can you sleep at night knowing an object-based solution isn’t as secure it could be?

Image-based backups make more sense if only for the fact that they leave no base uncovered. Instead of prioritizing which files are vital and which are expendable at the moment, you protect everything and can ensure business continuity for your clients on the heels of a crisis. The importance of having a complete backup solution can’t be overlooked because when something goes wrong, it’s not only files that need to be recovered, but often applications and settings as well.

The right backup solution isn’t always the software with the most attractive feature set and the lowest price. However, getting on the right track could be as simple as identifying what’s important to you and your clients. So if bouncing back from the worst possible disaster meanings restoring large amounts of data across a combination of physical and virtual environments, then you probably need something that goes beyond basic file level recovery. Do your homework and you will find a solution that delivers the comprehensive data protection your BDR strategy demands.