Good backups are not just about getting your files and folders back; good backups are all about making your business work the way it used to before you had that crash in the first place, with everything put back just the way it was before something crashed. Good backup systems test themselves and are monitored to ensure they are always doing their job. Asking your vendor the right questions when selecting a backup system will ensure you are protected and get up and running after a crash in hours or days instead of weeks or months.

1. Backups – File-only

The most common backup scenario deployed today focuses only on the business data, that is to say – the files and data created by the user after the system was installed and set up, but not the programs, settings, and operating environment. File-only backup captures files in a way that you can quickly recover from the loss of a few files or a small database, but leave you exposed to days or weeks of downtime if a computer or server crashes.

In the event of a disaster such as failure of the computer or server, or a more catastrophic loss such as fire or flood, the restoration process might look like this:

First, repair or replace the defective computer or server. Load an operating system capable of supporting all of the line of business applications. Update the operating system with all of the security patches, install antivirus, install all of the business applications, and run all of those updates. On a desktop computer this might take 1 to 3 days, on a server this process can easily take at least a week depending on how many users need to be set up again, on the availability of parts, and whether or not you have a contract with a service provider.

Sometimes, the software that needs to be restored is old enough that it is hard to replace, or cannot be loaded on newer systems. In this case, restoring from a failure may also include costly, unexpected software purchases and the down-time associated with employees learning to use the new versions of software.

Next, all of the files need to be restored. If restoring from the cloud, we have seen this typically take a few days to a week or two, but if restoring from a local copy of backups, usually no more than a day.

2. Backups – System Image

More commonly, businesses are turning to “system image” backups to protect themselves. A system image backup captures the whole system – the files, the operating system, all of the programs, all of the settings, all of the user accounts – everything! Restoring from system image backups involves taking the most recent system image snapshot and reinstalling it on the existing, repaired computer or server, or purchasing new equipment and making small modifications in the system image so that it can be restored on different hardware. Since all of the programs, data, operating system, settings, and accounts are preserved in a system image backup, the business can be put back together just like it was before the crash. Recovery from image backups is measured in hours or days, depending on if recovering a simple computer or a batch of servers.

3. Replication

With most system image backup solutions you can add a replication feature. With a replication feature, you can stream a copy of your backup image offsite to another location, excellent protection against flood and fire. Many business owners will keep an appliance at their homes and configure their server to stream a complete snapshot of their servers at the office to the appliance at their home. In the event of a disaster, the appliance can stand-in for the server, or can be brought to the office and a new server rebuilt from the images on the appliance. Rather than keeping backups “on the cloud” for hackers to steal, business owners and managers find that keeping the backups “at their other office” (if they have more than one office), or on an appliance at the owner’s home provides a level of comfort and security unachievable by keeping private data on public cloud servers.

4. Testing and Monitoring

Whether you choose File-Only backups or System Image backups for your business, be sure to always test your backups – make sure the integrity of the backups is intact. Many automatic backup systems fail without giving alarm, so it is also important to actively monitor your backups system. Do you know of any stories where a company thought its backups were running, only to find out when they really needed it – it had failed? Regular testing and monitoring will ensure this won’t happen to you.