Category: Backup & Recovery

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, working from home has become the new normal as many employers and employees have dealt with social distancing, lockdowns and the closure of corporate offices. Advances in technology and computer technology has made this transition relatively smooth, with people able to create a fully connected home office using a suite of hardware and software. In this article we will examine some of the amazing technologies that are in use today that have really come to the forefront since 2020. Read further to find out how you or your company can utilise video conferencing, Office 365, cloud backup solutions, VPNs, managed antivirus, remote IT support, and remote desktop access to work effectively from anywhere in the world.

Here is just one example of how technology has greatly benefited a company during the COVID-19 pandemic. One of our clients was still utilising on premises servers with separated data sets. They did use dropbox in a very basic sense, but the amount and complexity of the data meant that a better solution needed to be found. Luckily just prior to the pandemic OJ Networks recommended and was able to deploy a nationwide Office 365 and SharePoint solution for multiple offices around Australia. This allowed them to seamlessly shift to working from home when the lockdown orders were issued and staff were able to remote in via Office 365 to continue their work without disruption. Staff were able to login to their ‘server’ as if they were in the office and they could work from any location, allowing them to continue their business as usual. We often hear from this client as to how lucky they were to set this up prior to the pandemic as there was no downturn in productivity and they would not have been able to function as a business without it!

Now lets explore some of the options in detail, what benefit they provide and how they may assist your business in working remotely.

What technologies are available?

Video conferencing hardware: webcams, headsets, microphones, speakers – These allow you to call and have remote video meetings via Skype or Zoom. When working remotely it can be hard to maintain a connection with colleagues.  Video conference calls let you stay in touch with co-workers, teammates and managers and maintain the productivity of face to face meetings.

VPN (Virtual Private Network) – A VPN allows you to connect securely to another network over the internet. It creates a secure tunnel between the user computer and office computer or server. Using a VPN allows employees to safely access company data from any network, public or private. These are crucial for businesses to avoid man in the middle attacks. This is where data is unencrypted and can be snooped upon by malicious parties.

Office 365 – Office 365 is Microsoft’s cloud based services including emails through Exchange Online, file management and storage through SharePoint and OneDrive, collaboration and chat through Teams along with cloud connected versions of popular applications (Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, OneNote). All programs can be used online through a browser, and all files can be accessed from the cloud, wherever and whenever they are needed. With Office 365 employees are able to work together and collaborate together, with the ability to work on the same document even in separate locations.

Third Party Office 365 Backup – Having a third party Office 365 backup system in place allows you to keep important business documents and emails secure and safe. It ensures that you can restore any data quickly in the event of any accidental or malicious deletion, user error, ransomware or data corruption. If there are ever any issues with the Microsoft Servers you have your own completely separate version of all of your files and emails.

Managed Antivirus – Its important to have one of the highest rated Anti-Virus products on the market protecting your workstations, laptops and servers. A managed antivirus solution goes one step further in allowing IT admins to remotely monitor any virus outbreaks on your network and act quickly to respond to any issues.

Remote IT Support – IT Support companies can now effectively monitor and manage your computers and networks remotely. To do this they utilise remote management tools which give insights into any issues that your devices are experiencing. Along with management tools they usually install a remote access client to connect to your device quickly and securely. This saves you time, as there are no travel costs involved. With this scenario it doesn’t matter whether users are working from home or out of the office, the IT support personnel can log on to their computer and fix any issues.

If you are struggling with this shift to working from home, either as a business or an employee we can help you! From something simple such as supplying a webcam, to assisting you to set up remote access to your office through a VPN, setting up cloud emails and applications through Office 365 or anything in between get in touch with us today.

We hear it all the time, “My computer won’t start, saying disk not found”, “I opened an email and now I can’t open my files”, “My external hard drive where I keep all my photos isn’t detecting”.

And our first question to any of these is “Do you have any backups?”

There are so many ways that you can lose your data that it’s quite alarming how many of us don’t backup our files.

Situations Where Backups Can Help

If your computer dies from a hardware fault, it’s quite easy to get back up either with a repair or a replacement.  But if you lose all your data including your photos, they are potentially gone forever.  The simplest way to protect your data is to have at least one copy of it on an external hard drive.  The more copies you have, the less chance there is of losing all your data.

It is also important to do backups properly.  Like everything else in the technological world, backups will fail sooner or later.  Investing in a professional to setup your backup, make sure it works and provide some training will ensure you backups will run smoothly for a long time.

Backup options

We recommend and use Storage Craft Shadow Protect as it is a full featured backup software solution.  It has software for you desktop PC up to your file server at your office.  The backups from Storage Craft are an image based backup solution, allowing us to restore the system to a previous point in time with all software and files back how they were at that particular time.  You know the saying, “don’t put all your eggs in the same basket”, So we like to configure Storage Craft with a set of at least 3 external drives, 1 that’s currently being backed up, 1 in transit and 1 that’s offsite at a secure location.

Cloud based backups

Another option for saving your files is using a cloud service like Dropbox or One Drive.  Both offer a free amount of storage before you need to buy a plan to get more storage.  Cloud storage has become a lot more robust and secure over the years, now offering options like file history allowing you to go back to a previous version of a file.  It also allows you to access your files from the cloud anywhere in the world with an active internet connection.

Set & Forget?

We would love to just be able to set up a backup and never have to worry about it, but sadly that’s not the case.  Ideally it is a good idea to check your backups periodically to ensure they are working efficiently and effectively.  You don’t want to go to your backups in a time of need and find they haven’t been working for the last month.

Should I Backup Up My Smart Phone?

Another thing to consider is your smart phone.  When’s the last time you backed it up?  How many photos have you taken since the last time you backed it up.  We rely on our smart phones more and more, however problems arise when they fail, are dropped or end up in the toilet.  Making sure you have a regular schedule to back up your smart phone can ease the anguish when your device may inevitably fail.

External hard drives are not immune to having issues.

They are often transported around and bumped and knocked more than a drive in your computer. Many people consider these USB drives as a “backup” device and then proceed to place the only copy of their information on them.

Remember that in order for it to be a backup it needs to be a copy of the information stored on your main hard drive.

In the case where your external hard drive is not responding, the data may still be accessible. There is a controller on most external drives that may be malfunctioning.  In this case we can remove the drive and put it into a new external caddy to get it working again. In some cases through the actual drive is faulty and the data may not be able to be retrieved.

Which is why you should only keep a backup copy of your data on there!

Drop in or give us a call if you have any issues with external USB drives on the Sunshine Coast.

Backup Solutions for Small BusinessAsk yourself this simple question… How much of  the work that you and your employees do in a day are you willing lose? This will help you plan a backup and recovery strategy. If you are comfortable losing a day’s work and another day spent re-doing that work, then a backup every night should suffice. If however you would feel more comfortable losing only 30 or 15 minutes work, then a backup that takes snapshots throughout the day may be a better choice for your business.

I had a client recently who accidently deleted photos he had been working on from his server. The last backup from 12 minutes ago had all his work  ready to restore with a few mouse clicks.  In his words “A life saver“. Of course your backup is only as good as your last recovery…

So let’s have a basic look at the types of backup technologies available. For the less technically-minded readers: Just show me the solutions!

Backup Technologies

File-based backups

This is the traditional way to take a backup. You provide the backup system with a list of files that you want to backup. You set a schedule for backing them up and a destination to backup to. The backup tool makes a copy of the files and either creates a new backup or replaces the existing backup depending upon the settings you provide. The advantage of this type of backup is that if you have a small number of files that are important to backup, you can target only those files and create a smaller backup  file size. You need to be sure you do not miss a file that is required with this method. File-based backups are not great for backing up and entire system because a computer is always in a state constant state of flux – files and programs need to be in a fixed state at the time the backup is taken – this is where snapshots come in.

[quote]Imagine the backup system is a photographer taking a image of a sporting team.[/quote]

Snapshot BackupsSnapshot-based backups

Snapshot-based backups rely on taking a snapshot of an entire volume (e.g. your C:\ drive) of information at a particular time. It is not interested in files as such, more the entire volume itself. The snapshot backup system can talk to your computer and all the programs running and tell it to get ready for a snapshot. Imagine the backup system is a photographer taking a image of a sporting team. It is up to the photographer to get everyone to line up correctly, frame the shot perfectly and ensure they are all smiling. The snapshot backup system does this with your data. It ensures that the information backed up in that snapshot forms a perfect picture of your system.

Strategies for Scheduling Snapshot-based backups

As stated above, if you are willing to lose a couple of days then do a backup every night. If not then it is time to get a backup strategy in place that can run throughout your working day. Here are the types of backups that will allow you to get this strategy underway.

Full Backups

A full backup will backup an entire volume. For example if you have a C:\ Drive and a D:\ drive that are both hard drive partitions then you have two volumes. Full backups take the longest time of the backup types because they contain all the data required to rebuild your volume. As a result they should really only be performed at night when your server is not serving users and has the time and processor power to allocated to the backup.

Differential

A differential backup will record in a backup only that information that has changed since the last full backup. Say I backed up a full backup on a Monday night. If I ran a differential backup at 10am Tuesday, it would look at the backup from Monday night and record only what data has changed. If I rand the differential backup at 2pm on Tuesday it would disregard the 10am backup and look at what data has changed since Monday night again. Differential backups are smaller than full backups but the longer it has been since the last full backup the larger the differential backup will become.

Incremental

Enter the star of modern backup programs… incremental backups. Incremental backups take a snapshot of the data that has changed on your volume since your last incremental. This means that you can backup as often as every 15 minutes. The incremental backup writes only a small amount of data for the changes in the last 15 minutes and your server can continue serving the users. When restoring an incremental backup it relies on the abililty to read in the previous incremental backups all the way back to the last full backup so it is essential that your backups are regularly verified. It is also recommended that due to the fact that they are based on a full backup at a pervious time that you perform a full backup at night every few days at minimum.  Incrementals are fast to backup, use less space and using today’s backup technologies they can be restored as fast as a full backup.

On-Site hardware solutions for backups

So now you know the types of  backup technologies and how to schedule them, but where is the best place to backup this information too? Well we suggest that you initially backup to an internal SATA drive that is not on the RAID controller if possible. This drive can then be removed if required and taken to another machine for restores. This drive should be large enough to hold at least a weeks worth of data. This means that if you have for example 200Gb of data then with 3 full backups and the incrementals you would want to start with at least a 1Tb drive to allow for future growth.

As well as the internal drive, it is essential to have a rotated set of external drives connecting via eSATA or USB. These drives take a copy of the internal backup drive and are swapped out and taken off-site every day.

Online Backup Solutions

There are a lot of online solutions for backups now too. As internet bandwidth gets cheaper these options are becoming more viable in Australia. For small offices it could be the perfect solution. Be aware though that if you have a  large data set such as 500Gb and are relying solely on the online solution, it could take a long time to download that entire backup set. Mounting a local image for restore would only take minutes. We will discuss online backup further in another article.

Restoring your valuable Data

So you spent the last 6 months diligently replacing your external USB drives and suddenly you find yourself in the situation where you have to recover crucial data. Your blood pressure rises and your palms get sweaty as you realise that the backup program or the drives have failed you and you have no recent backups. Don’t let this happen to you. Even the best backup strategy has issues. People forget to change USB drives, the amount of data backing up increases and starts to cause the backup drives to fill up, a backup drive may even fail itself. You need to be monitoring and test restoring the data regularly to ensure that your backups going to produce the result you expect of them. OJ Networks offers backup monitoring as part of our OJ Monitoring solution. It covers a range of popular backup programs and allows us to alert you when there are issues with your backup systems.

When it comes to recovery, it is advisable to restore your entire volume to a test server and start it up to make sure it is complete and ready in the case of a complete disaster (eg. server catches fire). OJ Networks offer a complete test restore service to our dedicated Virtual server system as part of our OJ Managed – managed services solution. We test boot your server from backups every 2 months to ensure that in the case of disaster we can have you up and running in as short a time frame as possible.


Backup Solutions

StorageCraft ShadowProtectOJ Networks have provided integrated backup solutions for many of its clients.  We primarily supply and recommend the Storagecraft ShadowProtect suite of products. They have solutions for desktops and a range of servers. We have never been let down by any of their products. If you have a business and think it is time that you started investigating a backup and recovery solution that means minimal downtime and gives your business peace of mind then talk to us today.

Phone 07 5329 3200 or contact us online

This article appeared in part in the “Ask the Professionals” section of the  Coolum and North Shore News of 25 November 2011.