Getting your IBM i Backups Offsite: What Are Your Options?

Laurie Leblanc

Laurie LeBlanc, iTech Solutions

It’s not often that we hear the stories of a data center being destroyed, but it happens. If your backups remain onsite, or even worse — they stay in the tape library for a week before you remove them, then you are at risk if a disaster strikes.  We actually had a customer who had a fire in their building.  The tape was still in the tape drive.  Pete’s advice was to cut the cable and grab the tape drive and run. This is not a good disaster recovery plan.

Security, recoverability, ease of restoring

When I was a System Administrator in the early 1990s, my colleague and I took our backup tapes home to keep them offsite. I didn’t have a fireproof safe, I just had a box with tapes that I kept safe. On Friday night, the backup would run sometime after the JDE nightly process would finish and the tape would stay in the tape drive until Monday morning at 6 AM when one of us arrived.  That tape stayed in the building all day until after work when it would leave with whoever had the early shift that week. We had a backup, we even took it offsite, but was it really the best solution? No. It was what we knew at the time.

Fast forward 25 years and today we have options. Whether it’s hiring an organization to take the tapes offsite and secure them or using some kind of replication, we now have better options to keep our backups safe. When considering getting your backups offsite you should consider the security of your data, how you will recover your media, and the ease of restoring the data.

Under the pillow

Putting a copy of your backups under your pillow at night may give you the warm fuzzies, but it’s not the best choice for protecting your company’s data.  Your data should be in a secure location, not in a box in the entertainment center (yes, that’s where I kept the backups).

If you do nothing else, you need to at least take your media offsite daily. I understand if you leave the tape in the drive until Monday morning.  That’s what I did.  I only want to ask you —  is this in the best interest of your business? If the answer is no, you should consider some of the following options.

Offsite Storage services

Many companies realized that having an employee store their data at home was a risk.  A rogue employee could do some damage with all of your data. In addition, if the tapes are not secure, they can fall into the wrong hands, or get destroyed or lost.  Offsite storage services became very popular for helping companies to store their critical data offsite in a secure location. The problem with this solution is the cost and how difficult it is to get your data back.

The great thing about an offsite storage service is that they come to you, get the tape, and bring it to a location where it is safe.  The challenge is when you need your data back.  How long will it take to get it?  What if you request one tape and find out you’re still missing data? How long until you get back the second tape?

The same is true if you take your backups to the local bank vault.  This is a good solution.  Your data is offsite and it is in a secure location.  The problem is the bank is closed at 5 PM and not open on Sunday.  If you have a disaster at 2 AM on Saturday, you have to wait until Monday morning just to recover your backups. What impact will this have on the business?

Cloud Backups

The cloud is everywhere.  Moving your backups to the cloud is a great option.  It addresses the security of your data, the ability for you to get it back easily, and when you need it.  There are several cloud-based backup solutions available for IBM i.

Cloud backups eliminate the need for you to back up your systems to physical tape. Instead, your data is stored on disks.  That data can be retrieved on your schedule, as long as you have internet access.

We offer a vault solution for some of our customers.  This solution works really well for companies that have under 1 TB of data to backup. For companies with more than 1 TB of data to backup, the vault solution may require you to have a server that you back up to, and then that is replicated to the cloud.  While this isn’t bad, it does require an additional hardware component, which introduces another point of failure.

VTL Replication

A lot of companies don’t have the time to execute their backups the way they want to. If given a choice, they would back up more data, but getting downtime and object locks is near impossible when you have processing happening 24/7.  This is where a VTL can help.  VTL’s are similar to vaults.  They are an appliance with a disk.

Just like you shouldn’t ever keep your tape in your tape drive for extended periods of time, you shouldn’t ever keep your backups on a single VTL.  It’s the same thing.  Your backups are in the same place as your system.  If the data center is lost, so is your backup.

This is the reason why VTL’s have replication.  Similar to a vault solution, you want to make sure that the backup is replicated either to the cloud or to a second VTL.  Ideally, you want this to happen right after your backups are finished to ensure the best protection.

Vaults and VTL replication offer you the ability to get the data offsite quickly and securely.  They also allow you to have immediate access to your backups in the event you need to restore something.  They also eliminate tape handling, which is time-consuming and costly.

High Availability is not a Backup Strategy

An important point is that High Availability of systems is not a backup and recovery option.  If you have HA, you still need to have a way to back up your systems and get that backup offsite.  If you corrupt your database, the replication software is going to replicate that to the HA system and you need a recovery method.

Protect your critical data and restore easily

Getting your backups offsite will protect your company’s data, but that isn’t the only objective.  It’s important to keep in mind how easy it is to recover your data in a disaster.  If you can’t easily access the backups once they are offsite, you increase the recovery time.  Which reminds me, once you decide how you are going to store your backups offsite, you should consider doing a restore test.

iTech Solutions can help you to execute a full restore test. But, that’s a topic for another time.

If you have more questions or would like to talk about what strategy works best for you, contact us and we’ll help you in the right direction. 

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