Saturday, October 5, 2013

Restore, restore, restore


I recently wrote a blog post highlighting the fact that too few ordinary businesses and users perform adequate backups. However, backing up your information is really only half of what you should be doing. To give yourself 100% certainty of your backups you actually need to restore them.
I can’t tell you the amount of times that I have come across people who religiously backup but when they need to actually restore data they can’t for some reason. The most likely reason is because the media is corrupted however I have even seen a case where a company was religiously backing up to write protected tapes. Since all they ever did was change the tape daily and never check the log they effectively had no backups when they needed them. The sad thing is that they thought they were doing the right thing! (certainly not the “write” thing).
So restoring backed up data is just as important because you don't want to find you have issues when you are relying on your backups to get you out of a disaster. In theory you should of course perform a complete disaster recovery so you know you can do it when the chips are down. At the very least, you should be running smaller test restores regularly to reduce the chances of issues developing.
Now that is all well and good but what happens if you are using the cloud as a backup? What happens when you are using a large provider to maintain your backups? What happens if you are paying someone else to perform your backups? I would still again say restore, restore, restore. You need to be 100% confident that YOU and you alone can recover your data if needed. That means that if you are not 100% comfortable with a third party doing it for you then you need to take additional steps to ensure you can.
This may mean that you need to do your own data backup if your information is stored in the cloud. Remember, the rule of thumb is 3-2-1.
- 3 copies of the data including the original
- 2 different media types for backed up information
- 1 backup off site
Now if you are using a hosted service, I wouldn’t be waiting until you need to recover information, I’d be testing the whole restore process beforehand. In most cases this means logging a ticket with the service provider to complete the recovery. In most cases, this means that the restore process is now out of your control. You simply have to wait until it is completed. How long will that take? You’ll never know until you asked to have something restore now will you? Again, do it as test before you actually need to restore something and document the process so you know.
You also need to be aware of what can actually be restored. In the case of something like SharePoint Online the only current option is a complete site collection restoration over the top of the existing information as detailed here:
http://blogs.technet.com/b/akieft/archive/2012/01/09/restore-options-in-sharepoint-online.aspx
That means that if all you want restored is a single file then you can’t achieve that without overwriting the complete site collection.
SharePoint Online was plenty of other recovery options such as the recycle bin which alleviates this issue BUT what it highlights is that there are limits on what hosting providers can restore. My question for you is, if you are using a cloud provider do you KNOW what the restoration process is? If you don’t then you should.
To be truly secure with cloud providers you are probably going to have to set up some sort of manual or third party back up of your data and that can be difficult, especially given the volume of data most people are pushing up to the cloud. Most connections won’t allow your to suck everything down to a local hard disk over night, so what do you do?
This is where a hybrid approach makes sense. If you use a desktop application like Outlook for you emails then a local copy of your inbox is stored on your workstation. This at least allows you to work ‘off line’ and get to the data locally. If you only accessed your emails via a web browser then you may not be able to get access to it in the event of a disaster.
Office programs like SkyDrive Pro, SkyDrive, OneNote, etc allow you to retain local copies of your data on multiple devices automatically. These features are more designed for convenience that pure backup, however the certainly provide this functionality as an important side benefit. If you accessed everything only via your browser then you may not have that luxury in the event of a disaster. My questions are, do you know what can be restored if needed from the cloud? Then, how can it be restored? Then, how long will it take?
No matter whether you use hosted providers or on premise equipment you need to be able to restore your data when required. You need to understand how long this will typically take and what you can and can’t restore. You and ONLY you are responsible for the security of your data. Therefore you NEED to take responsibility for it NOW and ensure you can restore it if needed.
You have been warned. Because remember, it isn’t a matter of IF you need to recover data, it is WHEN you need to recover data, because NO ONE is immune from disaster.