On-site or off?

As a small business, should I outsource my data backup or buy a NAS (or something like that) and do it on-site?

Storage has become a hot topic: our data grows more quickly as each day passes, and we require instant access to data that can span back many years. Optical archiving isn’t the best idea, since time is required to both write to the media and fetch the data when it’s required.

We must consider two things: the capability of storing the data itself, and the backup solutions that are required to preserve it.

Off-Site Storage Facilities
Many off-site storage facilities are out there to help you back up your data. Examples include Web sites that allow users to upload and download files using a browser. You might use an off-site facility if you work from multiple locations and want to access your data from anywhere, anytime. Of course you wouldn’t actually store all of your company data off-site, retrieve it, use it, and then put it back off-site again. It would consume too much time and require too much bandwidth for all but the tiniest files. Instead, at the end of your day, your main server can be programmed to connect to an off-site location and synchronize, uploading all files created or changed during that day.

The good thing about these off-site facilities is that they tend to take good care of the data. Most of them run on large-scale servers in data centres, which in turn have backup servers of their own. If redundant service is offered, they can duplicate your information at two different locations simultaneously, perhaps backing up a copy on the East coast and one on the West coast.

One thing is for sure, if your computer suffers a fatal crash, your office gets robbed or your building goes up in flames, you know your data will still be out there waiting for you to access it.

On-Site Storage
Storing your information in-house is the least expensive way to go, and there are many options. A small office with a handful of employees can get as much as half a terabyte (TB) of space for just a few hundred dollars by buying an external hard drive that is simply attached to a computer (or server) through a USB connection or FireWire. For a small office not wanting to spend too much, it is a great little solution.

For those requiring more functionality and space, there are storage appliances capable of many tasks, including network attached storage (NAS) appliances. Features like data protection and user access rights (so that certain users can access certain directories) are included. A NAS appliance can easily integrate within your existing network operating system. NAS appliances can usually be configured quite easily out of the box and do not usually require much ongoing maintenance. Their storage capabilities can range from about 160 Gigabytes (GB) to 20 TB.

Another thing to consider is that it is best to consolidate your information. Some people think leaving individual bits of data here and there across many computers in an environment is better than leaving all their eggs in one basket. It’s actually a horrible idea, since data duplication can easily occur; you will quickly lose track of which file or folder is the most up-to-date. Your best chance of eliminating data loss is to consolidate your data and routinely back it up.

Storing your information on-site using a NAS appliance or a simple USB device is a great and inexpensive option, but only if you bundle it with proper backup procedures, and only if your place of work is always the same location (home or office). If this is not the case, having your information on an off-site server will lower your chances or data loss and allow you to access your data from anywhere.

Thanks for the memory tips

  • The hard drives that hold your data will eventually crash. The average lifespan for any hard drive is three to five years. They have many high speed moving parts that suffer through wear and tear, they will eventually fail.
  • If you are backing up to tapes, make sure you’re not backing up blanks. Also, test your restore function on a monthly basis to make sure your data is actually being backed up.
  • Dave Luk is a Converged Communication Specialist with Mendax Microsystems Inc., Canadian Division, in Montreal.

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