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Backup is not Disaster Recovery and DR is not backup

It’s a common misconception that backup and disaster recovery (DR) are the same thing. The two certainly work hand-in-hand but it’s critical to understand that backup is not DR and DR is not backup.

In reality, DR needs to address far more than simply IT, but for the purpose of this blog I’ll stick to what I know best – and that’s not thinking about alternative office space and chains of communications which all need to be considered as part of a comprehensive DR plan.

In IT terms, traditional backup has been the staple of the small and medium sized business, albeit that the sophistication has improved from tape drives to automated processes linked to secure cloud-based datacentres.

That’s not to say there aren’t still plenty of businesses rotating a set of tapes across the week, with some lucky individual responsible for taking them offsite each evening (and making sure the kids / dogs / burglars don't get their hands on them).

Automated backup routines can be monitored, removing the chance of human error, and third party datacentres designed specifically for the purpose of storing petabytes of data for thousands of customers are subject to the stringent standards of ISO27011.

The important thing regardless of the method and medium is to understand how long it would take to restore information from backup and how much information has been lost since the last backup was run.

As far as the second is concerned, if you’re still using nightly, tape-based backup then the likelihood is that you’ll lose around a day’s worth of data – assuming the backup ran properly and the data hasn’t corrupted.

How long it will take to restore the data depends on a number of variables, the most critical of which is whether or not you need to restore your systems before you restore your data.

That’s because your backup is file-based and without the systems and applications in place to open and operate those files they’re actually of little value.

The next question, and this one is for those running cloud-based backups, relates to bandwidth. Transferring huge amounts of information can take a significant amount of time when devices are connected locally, so when the data is being transferred across your connectivity that time is likely to multiply especially if you’re attempting to maintain operations as normally as possible at the same time.

All that’s not to say that backup doesn’t have an important role to play, and we’ll come back to that later.

So, now let’s turn our attention to DR, or rather ‘continuity’ – and minimising the impact if some kind of disaster befalls.

The technical terms for what’s described above in terms of what you can lose and how long you can operate with key systems and information are Recovery Point Objective (RPO) and Recovery Time Objective (RTO).

Historically, reducing the recovery point objective (RPO) and the recovery time objective (RTO) to zero has been very costly, essentially the domain of the enterprise. The solution has involved replication of some kind – whether that’s been site to site or by setting up mirror systems through a datacentre provider.

It’s also worth pointing out that a DR solution, such as replication, doesn’t remove the need for backup on the basis that it doesn’t allow individual files, email or database records to be restored or offer any meaningful form of retention.

So what’s changed and why are we raising this difference between backup and continuity at this time?

The simple answer is that there is now technology that’s both available and affordable, and offers image-based backup.

By image-based we mean it’s the whole system that’s backed up rather than just the files, so when you restore, you’re restoring both applications (and the operating system) and the data.

It sounds simple, but is in fact pretty revolutionary.

The technology in question is from Datto, who has taken the world of continuity by storm – if that’s not an unfortunate turn of phrase when we’re talking about disasters!
The fact that it’s image-based is not the only clever thing about it.

It also combines an on premise box and cloud-based backup in a ‘belt and braces’ hybrid approach. And unlike traditional backup solutions, both the on premise Datto box and the Datto cloud are not simply storage devices but also incorporate compute resources, i.e. processors and memory.

For the sake of completeness, Datto actually combines image-based backup with the facility to recover individual files.

What makes the Datto solution even more remarkable – and genuinely DR or continuity – is that it’s possible to recover a server and its data within a matter of minutes or even seconds.
So, where does that leave us?

Well, backup is still not DR and DR is still not backup. But actually, Datto is both.

Flood. Fire. Electrical failure. Cyber-attack. Human error. Malicious damage. Bring it on!

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