Backup is essential for any business, but far too many don’t take it seriously, think they don’t need it, or incorrectly believe they are covered by something that is totally inappropriate.
As a Managed Service Provider (MSP), you have a responsibility to your clients to ensure they not only have a backup process in place, but they also understand how it works and what it means when they need it.
We have long since left the reactive world of break/fix, and now the responsibility lies with us—the trusted IT partner—to ensure the correct backup is in place, and if it’s not ideal, then to ensure the business owner knows and accepts the consequences.
It’s our responsibility to have the discussion with the business owners to establish:
When we speak to our clients, we need to strike the balance between how quickly they want to get up and running in the event of a disaster and the budget available. During your conversations, it’s helpful to establish the Recovery Time Objective (RTO) and the recovery Point Objective (RPO). These create some basic recovery objectives.
The RTO is the amount of time the business can be without access to their systems. The time from the order to start the recovery process, to the point users can get access and start working again.
RPO is the amount of data loss a business finds acceptable in a Disaster Recovery (DR) situation. If the RPO is set to four hours, the backup must be able to restore the systems from four hours before the systems went down. This allows four hours’ worth of data to be lost from a failure.
Using both, we can now establish the minimum DR plan appropriate for the client’s needs.
(To work out how to calculate your RTO and RPO, read this blog.)
This type of backup is the traditional backup to internal / external USB drive, NAS, or other storage medium. There are a variety of backup products available to perform a local backing, including the built in Windows® backup tools.
Local + Cloud
Building on the local backup, the next option is to send that backup off to cloud storage. This is typically the minimum backup strategy you want to be aiming for with all your clients. Having a backup in the cloud protects against fire, theft, and other disaster situations. It’s also a great way to mitigate the risks involved with CryptoLocker and WannaCry malware types. If the malware infects a server, it can easily encrypt your local backup storage drives—however, if it can’t access the cloud backup storage, it can’t encrypt the backups!
Local + Local Standby
Having a local standby server usually means having a virtual image of the server copied to another physical server on the same site. The image should be in a state ready to boot up within a few minutes to allow a business to continue working. This is fantastic technology, but it does require additional hardware to be maintained and kept up to spec to give good performance when it’s needed.
Local + Local Standby + Cloud
This solution is crucial for businesses that have critical applications that enable them to do business. If being down for more than a couple of hours means that they start to lose money, then this provides business continuity combined with some DR protection. Just be aware that if a building was to catch fire and you had to get up and running, you need to consider how long it would take to download the cloud backups. This will depend on how much data is being backed up. If it will take a week to download everything before you can even start to get services back online, it’s probably self-defeating. You need to consider this in your initial discussions with the client.
Local + Local Standby + Cloud + Cloud Standby
This is the Holy Grail when it comes to backup. All bases are covered from simple file recovery for users, single server hardware failure, all the way to the building being knocked out. Having a cloud standby server ready to spin up is essential for businesses that could suffer financially if they are out of action for more than a day or two.
Just remember, having servers running in the cloud is great, but you need to understand how users can access them. For example, can they work from home? And, if so, how do they connect to the cloud-hosted network? Do they have the applications installed on their desktops, or do you need to replicate an RDS server into the cloud environment with all the required applications installed ready to run?
When it comes to choosing a backup solution, you need to ensure it’s going to perform the way you need it to. You also need to ensure that it can scale to meet any solution and is backed by the best support possible. Always remember, the three key points to ensure any system are:
As an MSP and a trusted advisor to your clients, you need to ensure you are having the right conversations with them about their backup and recovery strategy. There are plenty of good backup solutions, but only a few truly scalable ones, which work from basic solutions through to full disaster recovery and business continuity.
Ian Waters is a senior partner at MSP Southern IT Networks Ltd and works as the technical director. Ian has been working in IT for over 15 years since finishing his degree in computer science and artificial intelligence. An Office 365 expert and author of the book, Microsoft® Office 365®—Exchange™ Online Implementation and Migration—Second Edition. You can follow Ian on his personal blog here.
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