Practice Tips, by Dave Bilinsky, Practice Management Advisor

Remote data storage options

Of course, we all know we should have a data file backup and recovery system in the event of a fire, flood, earthquake or other disaster (such as the toilet backing up and dumping water all over your server, which actually happened to a law firm).

If there was one lesson the business world learned from 9/11, it was to have a robust data recovery plan in place. As reported in late 2001 by David Needle in “Disaster Recovery: Lessons Learned from 9/11,” American Express Bank in New York was back in operation within a day of 9/11, while another New York bank had a disaster recovery center two blocks away from the World Trade Center and still hadn’t recovered two months later. Similarly, Captain Chris Christopher described how the Pentagon thought it had secured one server with a back-up system across the hall. Neither survived the plane crash on 9/11. (November 16, 2001, itmanagement.earthweb.com )

There has been much discussion lately regarding using the “cloud” for remote data storage and backup. While the cloud has many advantages, one of the drawbacks is the time required to pull all that data back onto your office network, should the need arise. 

For example, if your internet service provider gives you up to 15.0 Mbps downstream and1.0 Mbps upstream” (Mbps = megabyte per second), how does this translate into actual download times?

According to Energy Sciences Network, it will take seven days to transfer 10 terabytes of data @ 16.5 Mbps (download their chart at http://fasterdata.es.net/assets/Setting-Expectations/Data-Transfer-Rates.pdf). On that basis, one terabyte of data will take about a day to download. Calculate the number of terabytes of data that you have in your backup, and you can quickly see that, had you experienced a disaster, it would take days to download your critical data onto a replacement computer system and be up and running (assuming, of course, that you get a fast high-speed internet connection immediately after the disaster). Each one of those days represents lost work and lost income, and possibly missed limitation and other critical dates. Furthermore, this analysis is based on the fact that your actual download speeds would be at or near the quoted maximum amount — in fact, it may not be for any number of reasons.

You should also keep in mind that that use of cloud computing may open you to potential security and confidentiality risks, depending on who has or could gain access to this cloud-based stored information.

So the question is, are there any alternatives to cloud-based storage that allow you to have a remote-access backup as well as a local one?

There are site-to-site data backup and recovery solution providers out there.

Instead of one server, you have two: a physical network area storage device in your office, and another at a different location  (could even be your home, perhaps). These two servers create two full backups of all your files. Moreover, if you have physical possession of both devices and one is destroyed, you will have immediate access to the other.

There are a number of benefits to moving to such a backup and restoration system:

  • Your data could be restored completely in minutes — not hours or days — and without the need for an internet connection.
  • If your office premises are destroyed, your data is still immediately available at the remote location.
  • Some systems are automatic (once configured it backs up your data automatically without user intervention) — and monitored. You do not have to carry around tapes or backup media. You don’t have to worry about staff remembering to change tapes or start the backup on a Friday … or take today’s tape home in a purse or briefcase.
  • Some providers will ensure your data is compressed, transferred and stored in your own on-site and off-site server boxes using encrypted connections.
  • Compared to a cloud provider (which could be hacked), your data remains confidential — no one else has access. If the solution is local,  your data is not stored off-site on a third-party server located in an unknown country (with questionable privacy laws).
  • You can use this system not only to copy your data, but also to back up a copy of your software applications. This allows you to recover and re-install them quickly in the event of a disaster
  • Providers may offer “point in time recovery.” This allows you to access a file as it was on a particular day. Using point in time recovery, you can easily go back to a date before a file was potentially infected or corrupted and recover your data.
  • Depending on the provider, you may have the ability to recover deleted files. If a file is deleted in error with a “mirrored” back-up system, it is lost on the back-up server as well.

Providers will offer a variety of payment plans, such as an initial installation cost and a monthly maintenance fee. When searching for a provider, you should stick to Canadian companies as data stored in the US is subject to the Patriot Act. And be sure to assess the after-sales service of any provider you are considering to ensure it is responsive and helpful.

For further details on offsite storage and other practice management issues, contact Dave Bilinsky at daveb@lsbc.org or 604.605.5331.


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