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Backup Solutions: Hard Disk or Tape Comparison

Data Recovery companies are probably the most aware of backup solutions that fail. I hear it 20 or 30 times a week and I only answer Exchange Server support calls! We are always asked “what is the best backup solution?” The answer depends a lot on your situation. Every business is different whether in architecture or budget. Since I am comparing tape backup to disk drive backup the scenario for this article is a small business that handles lots of data.

Data Backup Hard Disk Drives or Tapes, Which is Best For Your Business?

I am going to use a situation that is a real life case study, though the names have been changed to protect the guilty!

SMB Small Medium Business Network Storage Backup

The company that called was a medium law office near the tip of the Florida panhandle. They found us by searching for “server data recovery companies in florida ” They have 4 senior partner lawyers and 2 other junior attorneys. Along with their secretaries, legal assistants, paralegals, accountants and other office staff the total computers on the network was 24 desktops, 1 print/fax/file scanning server, and Microsoft Small Business Server. They had a custom Sharepoint application that was used for scanning and storing the scanned legal documents.

While they are well below the max number of clients on Small Business Server they still didn’t have a separate domain server, it was all on SBS. The problems started when they came to work on Monday and saw the server had rebooted. At first glance you wouldn’t think that was a problem, but Exchange Server is funny about unplanned reboots. They call it a dirty shutdown and it almost always leads to Exchange Server Data Recovery.

When their users couldn’t connect to their email after Exchange was restarted, they realized the information stores weren’t started. At this point they called a local network company because like so many SMB’s they don’t have an IT person let alone an IT department! Once the consultant got there she started running the standard Microsoft Exchange Server Disaster Recovery Plan.

Fortunately she was familiar with our website and backed up the MDBDATA folder prior to running ESEUTIL. Well like so many sad stories I hear every day, the disaster recovery failed and they moved swiftly into restoring from a backup tape. They had a Quantum DLT 4 tape drive on their print server which was running Backup Exec.

  • Enterprise-Class Features for SMB Backup
  • 320 GB compressed* capacity
  • 72 GB/hour compressed* performance
  • Certified “Backup Ready” Solutions

I get so many calls from people that use Backup Exec and have problems. Most of them are due to the software not being configured properly or changes due to OS updates that throw the backup schedule off. And like so many companies they never checked their backups to see if they worked.

In general running a weekly brick level backup (which backs up the entire server) and then incremental daily is a good plan, but in this case the whole backup set was corrupt. We ended up having them send us the priv1 edb and stm files to us on an external hard drive for data recovery. They got a new Exchange database up and running following another one of my blog posts: how to get Exchange working without reinstalling. And was able to Ex-Merge their PST’s back into the clean database.

Our Chief Exchange Engineer John Best pointed them to our post on How To Backup Exchange With Windows Native Backup and they were on their way! During the many calls between our staff and the different attorney’s they realized their backup plan leaved a lot to be desired. Working with their on site consultant we put together an inexpensive disaster recovery plan, not just for Exchange, but for their entire network!

Brick Level Bare Metal Backup and Hard Drive Recovery

One of the best solutions that won’t cost you an arm or a leg is bare metal disk to disk backup. In this series of articles I will be comparing the pros and cons of each system and which we have found to be the best to prevent hard drive recovery. When looking at the best solution for your company you need to isolate your storage and backup needs. A law firm which archives tons of documents are prime candidates for tape library systems, but if something happens (and it always does) the question is “how fast do I need access to all of our archived documents?” If the answer to that question is “QUICKLY” then tape is probably not the way to go.

Tape backup doesn’t really allow for you to browse through and pick and choose what you need, you have to load the tape, and maybe if your lucky view the contents, but unless you have been real detailed about the hierarchy of the contents, it can still be days of searching, trial and error for you to find any specific data.

A hard drive or disk based backup system mirrors your data, so you have easy and almost instant access to the data on any given machine. Looking at a granular level, if Betty in Accounting has lost her hard drive, a brick level bare metal solution images her drive and restores the whole hard drive sector by sector to the last save point. Then the incremental is applied and she is back in business in a couple of hours worst case scenario.

I know it sounds like I have already sold out tape drives, but they do have benefits. My next article will go over them as well as a real scenario where tape and disk backups where BOTH in play (these clients were real paranoid and a good thing too!)

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2 Responses to “Backup Solutions: Hard Disk or Tape Comparison”

  1. Alfred Ferrara August 11, 2009 1:26 pm #

    I have been tasked with installing a server for our Church that also runs a Food Pantry and a Thrift Shop. A local College IT VP has offered to donate a bunch of Desktops and laptops along with 4 Color Laser Printers. We are building a Server for: Shared Files, Email, and Internet Access allocation and he is recommending a Tape Backup System. The Dell Server t300 comes in at $3,400 but the Tape B/U is another $1,800 for two “1 TB” tapes. I am inclined to go with a RAID 5 and three 750 gb drives. The Food Pantry data resides in a single Excel File and would need to be retrieved almost immediately or we cannot serve the hungry! Other than this, Financial Data is the only other critical issue in the event of a catastrophic failure. This is our FIRST Network and Server Solution. We accumulate between 2gb and 20 gb in storable Data weekly, so our backup needs are “ThumbDrive-Size.” Can you speak to the recommended backup and disaster-recovery solution that would best meet our needs?

  2. Jim C. February 10, 2010 5:02 pm #

    I hope you don’t mind if I post a product post. We’ve developed a Bare Metal Backup for Servers tool we call Kleo. It’s a wizard style interface that walks administrators through the process of backing up filesystem/paritions, and storing the backups on the network. We bundle it with our Carroll-Net Server Recovery Kit. A LiveCD project packed with 100s of specialized

    Both Kleo & the Carroll-Net Server Recovery Kit are free for any use. http://www.kleobackups.net.

    Jim C.

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