A Guide to Disaster Recovery

Disaster recovery options are much different for individuals, small and medium-size businesses (SB), and large businesses (LB).
If you are working by yourself as a freelancer or if you just want to make sure you have backed up your photos, documents, and videos there are a couple of options. First of all, if you are using Google Documents you can download your files, which are stored on Google servers, to your PC by clicking on the download option there.  Google zips up all your files and sends you an email when the download is ready.  You could also backup files on your hard drive to Google Drive.  That would not make sense in all cases as Google Drive has a 15 GB limit before it is no longer free. In other words, you can put items into Google Drive which are not Google Documents.
Windows SkyDrive is a nice option as well.  You can save documents in your SkyDrive. Microsoft keeps those safely stored at their data center.  SkyDrive has a download option as well, so that you can download these documents to your PC and then copy those onto a USB external hard drive for additional protection.  You can also copy SkyDrive folders as you would copy any other folder using the File Explorer in Windows.  Like Google Drive, you can store any kind of file on the SkyDrive.
One item to note is that while you can store Microsoft Word documents on Google Drive, you cannot store Google Documents on Sky Drive, since they are not documents at all.  Microsoft Word documents exist as their own file.  Google documents exist as web pages on Google’s server.  Google knows that, so when you download Google Documents in order to back them up, Google converts them to Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and PDF formats.  Pretty clever, huh?  That ensures that you genuinely do have two copies of something and not just two bookmarks to the same document on the web.
Recovery is straight forward.  In the case of individual files you just copy them back.
Small Businesses
Let’s define a “small business” as one that does not run an enterprise-wide system.  In other words, they might have the scaled-down version of SAP, but they are not running Siebel’s customer relations system.  The small business might or might not have a database, like SQL server or Oracle.
A small business is going to have a mix of systems to run the entire business, like the accounting system, plus small systems that do one function for maybe one group of people, like keeping track of approved travel expenses.
There are two types of data to backup:  (1) individual files and (2) database files.  Individual files are just that: spreadsheets, Word documents, Excel Spreadsheets.  Regarding databases, that could be a Microsoft Access database, the data files used by Peachtree Accounting, or a relational database like SQL server.
There are several ways to approach backup.  One is to have RAIDx disks that write multiple versions of the data to different sectors in the disk or disk array.  In that situation, the disk vendor will have a utility to recover the entire disk in case the disk flies apart.  If you want to be able to recover individual files, then you need to replicate the disk to another drive.  That could be as simple as having someone copy of set of folders, say, once per week, to another disk manually.
The small company has two choices: (a) manual backup or (b) office-sized backup software.
This backup software will have the capability to run on a schedule.  So you could, say, backup the database, LAN (i.e., the shared drives), and email daily. Depending on what software you buy, this software could shut down the database then make a backup or export the database data to another format and backup that.  If it does not, you will have to export the data manually then get the backup software to backup that exported data.    Databases are generally recovered from a format that is different than their operating format.  In order words, you usually cannot just copy the database files, as you cannot put the database back together (recover) from that.
Recovery varies depending on if you have lost a file or a database.  The backup software should be able to help in either case, although you will have to recover the database yourself using the backup data.
Large Businesses
Let’s define a large business as one that has an enterprise wide system, like Siebel.  They might be running that software in the cloud or have it installed in-house, or have some combination in between.
If you are using the cloud for your applications, then the cloud vendor will provide various backup options.  Microsoft’s cloud is called Windows Azure.  Their backup product is called Windows Azure Backup. Amazon has something similar.
There are a lot of strategies for how to backup and restore data at the enterprise level.  The great majority of these involve restoring from another disk and not tape, as tape has been rendered almost not necessary, except in the case of data stored for multiple years (like email or logs kept for legal and regulatory purposes).
Designing an enterprise storage backup solution necessarily includes costs, so you have to ask:

  • What do you wish to back up? (This is the same as asking “What would it cost if you lose this data forever?)
  • How quickly do would you need the lost data back?
  • What is the cost of down time while you are waiting for recovery?

Depending on the answer to that, the company will deploy different backup devices and software throughout the organization and will choose to backup or not backup certain items.
In sum, the backup and recovery strategy varies for the individual, the small and medium-sized businesses, and the large company.  Costs and the effect of downtime drive the decision of what to backup.