Continuous Data Protection: Solving the SMB Backup Blues

Wednesday Mar 16th 2005 by Drew Robb
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A new technology makes instant, real-time backup a reality. Is it time to toss your tapes?

Still the number one "should-do" on small business owners' "to-do" list, data backup — or rather the lack of it — remains a challenge (if not a dirty little secret) for most SMBs.

Tape-based backups systems — once the go-to option for many SMBs — can be tricky to implement and expensive to maintain and often require an IT consultant to set it up at a cost of $125 per hour. The backup software typically costs $500 to $700 per server, and the backup devices for small businesses come in anywhere from $700 to $3,000.

Cost aside, tape systems are also notoriously unreliable. Failure rates in backup or recovering the data run as high as 50 percent according to industry analysts. When the boss loses that valuable file, it can take hours sifting through dozens of tapes to find it — if you're lucky. Backups are typically the last task completed at night or on weekends. So anything created or revised in the last few days might not been backed up when you need it. It's no wonder that so few small firms bother to backup up anything at all.

Instant Backup
Enter disk-to-disk backup, a technology the industry calls continuous data protection (CDP). The technology uses hard disks as back-up medium — the same kind of drives used in PCs. Modern replication technology provides instant backup of all key data and can restore deleted files in a couple of clicks. CDP technology saves time, too. Companies that use it backup your data once, and then instantly add only new files and revisions to the backup file.

"Rapid recovery of data is a key component of operational efficiency, the number one need for small to medium-sized businesses," said Mika Krammer, an analyst at Gartner Group.

Products in the CDP line were typically out of SMB reach — priced in the $70,000 to $250,000 range. However, the good news is that small business-friendly packages are now hitting the market. Most are affordably priced and make it easy to add an offsite storage component for added protection. Here are a few of the candidates.

Veritas Backup Exec QuickStart Edition
Veritas Backup Exec is possibly the most widely used backup software in the world with more than two million installations. The company has been targeting mid-sized to large organizations — until recently. Vertitas has just announced a QuickStart Version for one server. A basic version that backs up to tape costs $895, but the complete Backup Exec suite adds CDP capabilities and disk-based backup for a package rate of around $3000.

LiveVault InSync
No, Justin Timberlake has not started a backup company. InSync is the name of LiveVault's CDP service for small businesses. This is a subscription service that combines disk-based backup and offsite storage to keep companies safeguarded. It costs a minimum of $119 per month (more depending on the amount of storage space required) for offsite backups. If you want to add onsite disk-based storage, continuous data protection and the ability to restore files in seconds, it costs an additional $25,000 for an appliance called LiveVault InControl.

"The industry has been rapidly making the transition from tape to disk, but getting the data offsite is still a problem, particularly for remote offices and small businesses that lack IT staff," said Steve Duplessie, a senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group.

Data is backed up locally to the appliance and sent over a secure network to a data vault. If you lose a file, you can restore it from the onsite appliance. In the case of a disaster, all your data is available from the offsite location.


Lasso CDP
CDP for SMB — You can restore files in Lasso CDP in a matter of mouse clicks.

"Smaller companies with fewer IT resources can use LiveVault InSync for reliable, tape-free backup and recovery that is automated and integrated," said Daniel Stevenson, Director of Channel Marketing at LiveVault Corp. "It gives businesses the speed and reliability of disk-based backups, guaranteed recovery of their data and continuous protection at a secure, offsite data center."

Lasso CDP
While Veritas and LiveVault's small business offerings have evolved from versions originally designed for mid-sized and large corporations, Lasso CDP from LassoLogic was built from the ground up with the small business in mind.

Instead of a cumbersome backup schedule and offsite tapes, Lasso reduces everything down to an onsite appliance. Lasso CDP sits on your network and takes a full copy of all data you want protected from an unlimited number of machines. After that initial copy, it records only changes to the files or database immediately when they occur.

"This eliminates the need for a nightly or weekend backup schedule that opens the door to data loss," said Anna Yen, general manager of Lasso Logic. "Continuous file protection means you can recover something you lost a minute ago if you want."

As shown in Figure One, the business plugs the Lasso CDP box into its network, installs the Lasso client software on each PC, laptop and server it wants protected, and the device automatically completes a backup of all selected files. Mobile employees can connect to a secure Lasso site over the Internet to protect their laptop files. Data is also transferred offsite to a data center for additional protection.


Figure One
Figure One

A basic version costs $499, and it may be good enough for some small businesses. Note, though, that it does not include support for database applications, Windows Exchange or open files. A heavy duty version of Lasso CDP costs $999 and supports a wide range of databases as well as a broad range of applications such as Microsoft Office, Outlook, Goldmine, ACT!, QuickBooks, Peachtree, Adobe and Exchange.

@Backup
Finally, for very small businesses that perhaps have one small server to backup or one important PC, there's a service called @Backup by SwapDrive Inc., which is very low maintenance. You sign up online, decide the files you want backed up each night, and then forget all about it. Your files are backed up without you having to think about it.

This isn't quite CDP, but if you can live with up to one day's data loss, it is a very inexpensive option. Up to 50 MB costs $50 per year. There is a rising price scale of depending on the amount of storage required. 1 GB is $600, for example. For more information visit

Choosing Wisely
If you don't use huge graphics files and you just want to have basic offsite protection and fast restore for a relatively small amount of data, $50 a year at @backup buys a lot of piece of mind. For more sophisticated users, LiveVault and Veritas both offer market-tested products that may fit the bill. For those on a tight budget, though, Lasso CDP has been specifically engineered for small businesses. It offers a low-cost combo or CDP and offsite storage that is hard to beat.

Drew Robb is a Los Angeles-based freelancer specializing in technology and engineering. Originally from Scotland, he graduated with a degree in geology from Glasgow's Strathclyde University. In recent years he has authored hundreds of articles as well as the book, Server Disk Management by CRC Press.

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