Thursday, August 20, 2009

Remote Office Branch Office (ROBO) Backups

The problem of having to backup remote office / branch office exist in almost all Enterprises and there are several ways each handle them. Most of the solutions involve having a backup server at each location and a small tape drive / library and backup locally without having the need to remove or replace tape cartridges. There are several problems with this. If the remote office does not have an IT setup (most do not as they are sales/marketing sites) and if there are any issues that need to be handled locally - failure of backup server, need to reboot tape library, replace or add or remove tape media someone from Ops need to pick up a phone and work with the non-technical staff at that location. In some scenarios, it would be the security guard on duty or a receptionist who has no clue as to what they are doing or what is expected of them. Also, the major issue at hand will be data that need to be protected is at risk if tapes are not being sent offsite or if the site has a major power loss resulting in un-usable file servers, backup server and tape setup. This will greatly impact productivity at those offices where data need to be accessed timely for getting business contract documents etc. Also, if tapes are simply kept outside that anyone can access, there will be IP theft and legal issues that may stem from that. So, how do we make sure that data is protected at these sites in a timely fashion and have a better RPO and RTO at the same time?

There are a variety of Managed Backup Services that came out in the recent past that can help with this problem where the MSP (Managed Service Provider) adds an agent to the host and takes backup periodically. Your data is now safely backed up and is secured at an offsite location ready to be restored if needed. This approach has many disadvantages
  • Enterprises need to be comfortable in storing their IP information with a third-party
  • Depending on the data size, bandwidth play an important role. Increasing bandwidth just for backups is an expensive proposition
  • Initial backups takes a long time (low bandwidth) and to recover it will be as much challenging. To over come this problem, the initial backups can be seeded and sent over on a USB drive and restores can be done the same way.
  • Most solutions support only Windows based clients
  • You do not have control of your backed up data
  • The overall solution could become quite expensive if the amount of data starts growing. With the kind of data growth that is seen over the past few years, even a small office can have anywhere from 500G-1TB of data and could double or triple in no time.
Another approach is to do the same (as MSP) yourself i.e. choose a site that is large enough to qualify as a central site within the region (have a designated central location in Americas, EU, APAC etc). The central site qualification should be based on the staff skills there, bandwidth to the site, infrastructure presence etc. Then you can choose a product that can do agentless (preferably) backups (yes, there are agentless backup products) which will reduce operations overhead to manage and maintain agent compatibilities whenever you have to upgrade the backup server. You can do the initial backup to a local USB attached disk, shipped over to the central site and seed that first backup.

Technology used in these backups play an important role on reducing the amount of data sent over the WAN during backups. The products should have the intelligence to eliminate redundant data blocks, compress, encrypt and then send to the central vault. This will complete the whole cycle of backups and you will have control of your backed-up data as well as what to backup and what not-to. If you have a SQL server, or an Exchange server at one of these sites, that should not be a problem too as the product should be able to support it (preferably agentless). You should not loose any desired functionality just because the product simply is not capable of doing so.

This will make sure you can maintain your RPO and RTO levels defined as well as reduced costs with eliminating local backup servers and tape infrastructure at all locations. If the central site needs offsite backups, you can send that data to tape at central location and send the tapes offsite - or you can duplicate your central vault to headquarters. This will not only get you peace of mind, but also saves on valuable time your operations is spending to manage these small offices. The beauty of this is, if you desire to backup any laptops that users carry, you can configure them to do so when they connect to the network (CDP).

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