Backup and Disaster Recovery – Know the Difference

Do you know the difference between backup and disaster recovery?

backup and disaster recoveryData Backup and Disaster Recovery are not the same thing. Lately, we have been having this very discussion at multiple client sites. So much so, that I decided to explain here. The biggest misconception we have been hearing is that a company has been performing routine backups of their data and has therefore been following a disaster recovery plan. This is not true at all. Data backup is essentially the copying of your data to another medium. The purpose of this process is to provide recovery of missing data in a timely fashion. This is not disaster recovery. A disaster recovery plan is a documented process that has been put in place to resolve catastrophic events that could endanger an organization. In essence, data backup is considered a part of the disaster recovery plan/process, but nowhere near the entire concept.

Let’s take a closer look at data backup.

When we perform data backup, we are copying our existing data and putting the copy on a highly accessible medium. It has to be highly accessible in case we need to recover some of that data in a timely fashion. We archive that data over time so we can recover much older data. How far back we archive the data is usually governed by a compliance policy. An important step in protecting our data is to have the copies taken off-site. This way, if anything happens locally, data we can rebuild from is still on a medium in another location. Here is where we start getting into disaster recovery. Backing up the data is very important. Making sure we can use the backup to recover is another thing. Most organizations have backups that they perform consistently. However, how many of those organizations have actually tried to recover using a backup? Great, we have a backup of a server’s operating system, applications, and data. Has anyone tried to rebuild from that backup? If not, how do we know the backup is viable? There are a number of recorded incidents where qualified organizations needed to recover from a situation only to find out the backup they have been doing for years has had issues that have made it impossible to recover data previously thought to be safe. The success of our backups requires planning and testing. This is where our backups become part of the broader disaster recovery plan.

Now, let’s take a look at Disaster recovery.

Disaster recovery is the process required for an organization to come back from a catastrophic event. A disaster recovery plan is the documented instructions, processes, and proven methods on how to achieve that goal. Disaster recovery incorporates facilities, resources, and personnel needed to recover from a severe situation an organization could face. In planning for the big picture, the departments in an organization plan for how they are going to recover. What if a facility in an organization is leveled? What does the organization need to do to continue operations? That is disaster recovery planning.

Let’s bring it back down to the IT level.

What if the facility that got leveled housed the organizations main computing infrastructure? Yes, we have backups of our data. We even have that data offsite. But now, we do not have the original site to recover the data to. This is why we need a disaster recovery plan for the IT department. Besides from backing up data, we need to replicate it. We need a location to replicate to. If we lose our main systems permanently, do we have other systems available to recover to? If not, how can we acquire those systems in a timely manner? Where are these systems going to be located? Who are the primary people we are going to need to perform the tasks to recover these systems? If they are not available, who can be substituted? Do we have documentation on how to recover these systems? Have we tested in the past that the recovery documentation actually works? This is disaster recovery and disaster recovery planning.

We have performed a backup. We have protected the data by taking backup media to a different secure location. Or, we used replication to get a copy of the data to another secure site. The copy we have can be used to recover portions of the data when needed. That is the purpose of performing a backup. A plan in place that documents the proven steps needed to restore that copy of the data, the personnel needed to enact the plan, the facility and its level of preparation for an emergency, and the requirements to gather the resources needed. That is disaster recovery.

I hope that helps. As always, please feel free to post any questions or comments below or reach me directly by email.

 

AZS-3

 

 

 

Craig R. Kalty (CCIA, CCEE, CCA, MCITP:EA, MCITP:SA, VCP)

| Sr. Network Consultant craig.kalty@customsystems.com

 

 

©2015 Custom Systems Corporation

What’s your backup plan?

scyther5Spring cleaning. Getting a fresh start. Purging. These are all great things to do with your life, as it allows you to focus on what is important. But what about the data on your computer? Old documents, pictures, financial data, family movies, etc. The easiest way to purge this is to not backup your machine and then have the unthinkable happen. Your computer crashes and all your data is gone. It is just like a natural disaster that we all too often see where people are digging through the debris just trying to find a picture or teddy bear, just to hold onto memories.

I have often preached the benefits and requirement to complete backups of  important data. Twenty years ago, it was easy to keep your data intact, as there just wasn’t that much of it. We didn’t have 1,000’s of pictures or even video stored on those personal computers. Financial data, probably, but most of that was also probably printed out on nice green bar paper for cataloging.

Today, our data is EVERYWHERE. Literally, everywhere. If you have more than one computer in the house, which many households do, you have spread it across multiple machines to minimize the loss of data. You have pictures in iPhoto and music in iTunes on your mac. You have work documents on your PC at work and your laptop at home. That next great book you were writing is in word. Yikes. So many devices, so many files.

carbonite-logoMy main machine at home was our Mac. We have moved our data from mac to mac as we upgraded the hardware every three to four years as the machine started to get a little slow as newer technology leapfrogged earlier versions. Over 12 years, and thousands of pictures, songs, movies of our kids, etc. were piling up on that Mac. We had no backups, nothing. I tried to make copies of the data to keep them up to date, but it was difficult as things were constantly being added to that machine, and doing backups were a royal pain. That’s when I purchased a subscription to Carbonite for my home machine. I paid the annual price, loaded the application and let it do its things. Gigabytes of data were pushed into the cloud and were kept constantly updated.

I would say at least a year went by and then it happened. I did a very stupid thing. We were doing major home renovations and the electric in the home office was somehow not working. Not to be deterred, I ran an extension cord across the house to power the computer and monitor. Note, this is not a wise decision, as that afternoon, major thunderstorms passed overhead and then I heard it — POP! Say goodbye to the Mac Pro. It was completely fried, including the hard drive. Of course I didn’t know for sure that the hard drive was fried until we brought it to the Apple store and the tech confirmed it. They were going to try and repair it, as it still had 25 days left of the AppleCare warranty. In the meantime, we purchased a brand new iMac, as it was getting to that three to four year timeframe.

I got home that night, booted up the machine and did all that Apple stuff you have to do and the next thing I did was install Carbonite and begin the restore process and let it run. Two days later, the Mac was completely back up and running with ALL of our data. All the pictures, all my child’s videos and schoolwork. Everything.

To this day, I use Carbonite on my home machine and my office machine. It makes doing backups simple. You really don’t have to do anything much in the setup, it will save your files for you. That is the thing that makes this program work the best, it is transparent.

I will say that Carbonite is my backup solution, but to be honest, I do also take important steps on some of my more valuable information and spread it across different cloud based on-line storage just in case.

So what’s your backup plan? Share your experiences and questions below.
Michael Franchino

 

 

 

 

 

Michael Franchino, Vice President, AX ConsultingSr. Network Consultant michael.franchino@customsystems.com

 

 

©2015 Custom Systems Corporation

Time to backup your backup

Don’t lose what’s important

scyther5Everyone has files that are important to them and it would be a disaster if they were lost.  Years’ worth of pictures from graduations, kids growing up, and even items like tax returns or import documents that have been scanned for digital file storage.  Keeping digital files can make it easier to store, as well as search for later.  The problem is, what happens if your hard drive crashes and you lose everything?  A good backup plan is something that most people tend to forget about.  Many people will backup pictures and documents to one main hard drive and believe that is good enough.  What happens if that drive dies?  I had a colleague bring me the external hard drive where she had kept all the pictures of her children growing up.  The drive had crashed and after looking at it, I had to let her know there was nothing I could do to retrieve the files.  The drive was dead.  She lost years of pictures.  She was under the impression that it was on an external drive and that was good enough.  The truth of the matter is, you can never have too many backups.

Don’t be fooled by cloud storage options

Cloud storage programs such as Drop Box, One Drive and Google Drive are great places to store files, but you need to keep them stored somewhere else as well.  For me , I keep my son’s pictures on my laptop and backed up to my Microsoft One Drive account.  Then from time-to-time I will run a backup of those photos to my external hard drive that I keep connected to my wireless router.  This way the pictures and important files are kept on my laptop, in my One Drive cloud storage and also on an external hard drive.  These pictures are so important to me, I will probably even back them up a fourth time to something like DVD.

Do follow the Backup 3-2-1 Rule

This rule states:

3 – Copies of anything you care about – Two isn’t enough if it’s important

2 – Different formats at least (more is always better in this case) – examples of this would be Dropbox (or other cloud storage) + DVD, or hard drive + USB stick

1 – Off-site backup – This means using a cloud storage option such as Carbonite or Crash Plan.

Crash Plan and Carbonite are topics in of themselves, but these are great programs to back up larger amounts of data.  With programs like One Drive and Drop Box, you tend to get one folder that is backed up.  With Crash Plan and Carbonite, you can back up your entire computer if necessary.  Look for upcoming posts about Crash Plan and Carbonite where I will explain exactly how they work and why they are a good choice.  In the meantime make sure you backup your important data by no less than the Backup 3-2-1- Rule.

As always, we welcome your opinion and questions. Do you have a data backup plan in place? How are you keeping your files and precious memories safe?

Ryan Ash
Network Consultant
ryan.ash@customsystems.com
©Custom Systems Corporation 2014

XenServer Backup Options – Part I

In this first of a two part series, we’ll discuss available options for XenServer Backup.

Citrix Xen ServerRecently, I have been asked about backing up XenServer Virtual Machines (VMs).  At first I was concerned that some of the people who asked have had a XenServer environment for a long time.  At this point, they already had backup solutions in place.  In essence, they were looking for something different.  More to the point, they were looking for a single backup solution that encompassed all their backup needs.  With that in mind, we can look at what is out there.  I am going to discuss the solutions I have familiarity with.  If I do not include a solution, it is not because I am excluding it or devaluing it.  If you know of a solution I do not mention, please post it in the discussions with a description of the product and tell me what you like about it.

Citrix (and others) categorize XenServer Virtual Machine backups into three types; Cold, Warm, and Hot backups.  These are also terms for disaster recovery and high availability, but they take on a slightly different meaning when referring to XenServer backups.  Cold and Warm backups refer to backups that cause service interruption.  A cold backup occurs when the VM is powered down completely.  A Warm backup will not power down the VM, but can still interrupt service while the VM is being backed up.  A Hot backup is one that will not interrupt service and keep the VM running.  The performance of the VM may be affected during a Hot backup, but the VM will still be able to respond to requests.

Let’s discuss backing up the XenServer host itself.  I have found very little need for a purchased solution to back up my XenServer Hosts.  The metadata on a host changes rarely and to install XenServer on a server literally takes only a few minutes.  Therefore, all I need to do is backup the metadata for the host from time to time.  I can accomplish this with command line tools.  Backing up a host server needs the ‘xe host-backup’ command.  To restore a host server, it takes a few steps.  First, install XenServer and run the ‘xe host-restore’ command using the file created from the backup command.  Then, you will need the XenServer install CD to run a ‘Restore from Backup’.  This can be scripted and works fine for individual hosts, but most times, we have a pool of multiple hosts.  You can still use the commands I discussed to make a host backup, but you need to use the ‘xe pool-dump-database’ command to back up the pool metadata.  You would then use the ‘xe pool-database-restore’ command to restore the pool metadata.  Again, scripting can help with these tasks.

Now, let’s talk about your basic XenServer VM backup options.  For immediate needs, you can export a VM, take a snapshot, or utilize existing server backup technology.  Exporting a VM and taking snapshots can be automated, but neither of them are true backup solutions providing resolution to backup strategies.  In fact, it is highly recommended to view snapshots as a temporary solution, not a full backup strategy.  Snapshots are categorized as a Hot Backup.  Snapshots will eat up your storage very quickly.  So will VM exports.  One cheap method of backup is to take a snapshot of a running VM, export the snapshot to an .XVA file, and then delete the snapshot.  Besides from storage utilization issues which get worse in big environments or growing environments, there a many other drawbacks to this method like automation problems, file level restoration complications, retention over time/restore point tracking, etc.

In part II of this post, I will discuss Hot backup solutions utilizing agents and options from multiple third party vendors.

As always, please post any questions or suggestions below. I look forward to hearing from you.

AZS-3
Craig R. Kalty (CCIA, CCEE, CCA, MCITP:EA, MCITP:SA, VCP)
Sr. Network Consultant
Craig.Kalty@CustomSystems.com

 

 

 

© 2014 Custom Systems Corporation