With Microsoft being one of the major players in the market for both personal and corporate software, their products and services are widely used on a daily basis by millions of people. While the native protection features and options built into Microsoft solutions can provide you some basic assurance and may be sufficient for personal use, they are frequently timebound, cumbersome, and too ‘lite’ for the business world. These lite capabilities cannot compete with the full-featured data protection tools whose purpose is solely to make your life easier – at least in terms of backup and disaster recovery.
Native Solutions Aren’t Always Best for the Customer
Further, data protection gets more complicated due to the distribution of responsibilities between you, as a customer, and Microsoft, as a provider. So, as in the case with SaaS applications, Microsoft suggests that everything related to customer data is the responsibility of the customer. By extension, this theory holds true for locally installed and self-hosted software as well. Therefore, users are left to their own devices when dealing with backup and recovery of their data, even in case of accidental or intentional data loss or corruption. The customer is forced to find solutions capable of overcoming the limitations of the Microsoft-native backup and recovery features.
Diversity of Products Requires Diversity of Backup Approaches
Considering the number and nature of products and services by Microsoft, each requires a different approach in terms of backup and restore capabilities. This leads to the very first thing you should consider when choosing a backup and disaster recovery solution for your Microsoft environment: the backup sources.
Two Key Questions to Ask:
- Does the backup solution cover all Microsoft products and services employed in your company?
- Can it provide adequate protection for all of them evenly at the same level of reliability?
If the answer to these questions is yes, it eliminates the need to select, integrate, and maintain different solutions for Windows and SQL Server, Exchange Server, Microsoft 365 tools, and so on. If a solution cannot provide adequate protection, you may have to manage multiple tools, or find suitable third-party plug-ins that will consume your time and effort to integrate and make them work together.
Choosing Where to Store the Backup
An obvious, yet important, rule regarding backups is to store them in a secondary location from the source. This requires that the backup solution you seek must support at least one, if not multiple backup target destinations – so that the original’s loss is separate from where you can restore it. For example, if you were to ask an SQL Server specialist about the database backups, they will likely come up with: ‘never back up databases to a local disk’. Their rationale for that answer: if the server crashes, especially if due to a hardware problem or a severe system problem, the local drives may not be available.
This is true for many other products. Generally, whether for database or files, a backup and disaster recovery solution should offer a variety of options for storing data:
- In the cloud
- In a network fileshare, replicated to a dedicated data center
- Or other location
To ensure maximum recovery options, multiple backup targets could and should be employed. Such replication mitigates the risks when the primary backup storage is compromised, and the data is not available for restore. One final item to consider, especially for file and folder backup, is the ability to access backup data from multiple devices.
Ensuring Your Backup Type Matches Your Network
Effective backup of your Windows files, SQL databases, Exchange emails, and other assets must also consider the capabilities of the network and adopt the best backup type suitable for the scenario. There are three basic backup types: full, incremental, and differential.
Full backup suggests creating a copy of the entire source data set, with the primary benefits of recovery speed and simplicity. But full backup is a highly time-consuming process, generates high workload on the network, and consumes significant storage space.
Incremental backup requires that a full backup be made first, and then saves only those blocks in the data set that have changed since the most recent backup. This method is aimed at reducing the network workload and time to make periodic full backups.
Differential backup is similar to the incremental backup in that it requires a full backup first, and then it backs up blocks in the data set, but only those that have changed from the original initial full backup (not the most recent). This is useful to increase speed of restore in comparison, as compared to incremental backups.
All Backups Are NOT Created Equally
Your IT infrastructure and variety of Microsoft products you employ may require different backup types applied at different times and to different products. So, it is important that the backup solution implements each of the backup types, with an option to set a different type for each data set you back up.
Moreover, a good backup system must have a schedule that allows you to easily verify that all the required information is being automatically backed up on a regular basis. If you schedule a nightly or weekly backup, you can limit the amount of data that is lost if a computer or your entire system fails. A tailored backup scheduling mechanism provides confidence, knowing that all your information is being backed up, and losses are limited.
Some Microsoft products, such as SQL Server and Exchange Server, are fundamental to modern business operations. Despite their unique nature and purposes, they have one important thing in common when speaking of backups – they are both VSS-aware applications. VSS (Volume Shadow Copy Service) is a technology developed by Microsoft that allows backup applications to safely back up files that are locked for use by (or open in) other VSS-aware applications. In this scenario, look for a solution that comes with backup features specifically designed for Exchange Server, SQL Server, or other VSS-aware applications. Thus, backups will be smoother, application-consistent, and you will not lose the slightest fragments of data stuck in memory or pending I/O operations.
Restore is Important Too
Backup capabilities must also be matched by restore capabilities. A robust backup and disaster recovery solution must offer versatile data restoration and export features, so you can completely re-deploy your Hyper-V virtual machine or SQL Server instance quickly, and with ease, without idling the critical operations of your business. Your business operations are too critical to be searching for an Exchange Online email or a Windows file, or even a version of a file at a given point in time before it was lost, infected, or destroyed.
To ensure backups are valid, point-in-time, and with zero data loss, a backup and disaster recovery solution must have a management system. While monitoring and tracking (management capabilities) vary from one system to another, the main ‘hotspots’ to control, observe, and report on are:
- Capacity and status of the backup targets
- Backup success rate
- Restore activities
- The status and accessibility of the protected endpoints.
Don’t Forget the Importance of Management
Basically, a good management system should get the right information to the right people to take action. Choose a backup and disaster recovery solution that implements a centralized all-in-one management console so that you are not bouncing between systems (much like the built-in tools of Microsoft products and services).
Test Your DR Strategy and Action Plan
After you select the ideal backup and recovery solution that fulfills all your needs and seems like it is easy to manage, do one last check. Make sure that your data is fully protected and can be brought online quickly if your operations grind to a halt due to natural disaster, employee error, or ransomware attack. Be prepared by testing your backup and disaster recovery solution to ensure it really meets the goals of your DR strategy and DR action plan. Test how the pipeline performs under pressing circumstances, and whether it can provide efficient protection of the mission-critical data in your Microsoft environment. Testing is key as to check all the nodes and dependencies, so you will not be caught off-guard when a real emergency occurs.
One Vendor or Multiple – What’s Best?
A final nuance, that is frequently missed when assessing the backup and disaster recovery for Microsoft environments, is the choice between a single or multiple vendors. With multiple vendors, you have a broader choice of tools, and can quickly pick the most suitable solution for each Microsoft product and service. However, this approach only justifies the inevitable presence of a greater number of assorted tools in your ecosystem – resulting in redundant or superfluous processes requiring extra time, effort, and money to integrate and manage. Going with a single vendor provides a smoother and more unified integration into your business mode of operation, makes life of the IT administrators easier, and allows you to optimize time and other resources to support and maintain the business in the long run.
Choose Infrascale to Protect Your Microsoft Environment
Infrascale offers a suite of backup and recovery services, unified by a single-pane-of-glass and consolidated management, to provide comprehensive and reliable data protection for your Microsoft environment. Whether you need to protect files and folders on the employees’ computers running Windows, an SQL Server or an Exchange Server instance, or a Hyper-V virtual machine, or a Microsoft 365 application, Infrascale has you covered. Not only does Infrascale provide an easy-to-use, yet robust control and management system, but you will also benefit from personalized attention and support by our award-winning customer service team.