The value of your backups is in the data

The value of your backups is in the data

Summary: Some IT people still don't get the whole purpose of backups--even very seasoned professionals. But, the short answer is, "The value is in the data."

"Since before your sun burned hot in space and before your race was born, I have awaited a question. Make it a good one."

Here we are in mid 2012 and you'd think that you'd heard every possible mistake someone could make in working with backups. Not so. It's sad to say that every time I gather with other IT professionals, I hear the horror stories of backups gone bad. And, let me tell you this, it's hard for a snarky, quick-witted, sarcastic and highly irritable guy like me to remain silent during these tales of woe. I have to resist, with all my might, the urge to smack the monologing dolt who, while spouting his expertise, tells enthusiastically of his folly. Surely I can't be  the only one reaching for another Diet Dr. Pepper and shaking my head when these people open their mouths.

I often rejoice that I don't work with or for anyone like that. I'm so relieved that I phone or text my coworkers and tell them I'm glad that they are who they are and that I have the privilege of working with them.

I typically only receive a single text response back from one of my appreciative rants: LOL.

"LOL," is my quick response back, although I'm not really laughing. It seems appropriate to at least let my coworker think that I'm totally sane, normal and not pathologically focused on the incident(s) that sparked my mini rant via text to them.

The latest happy occurence of ill-conceived IT crazy happened a few days ago at a lunchtime seminar for a backup product. A very good backup product. In fact, it's a great product at a very reasonable price. I'll tell you all about it in another post.

For now, please endure the reliving of this particular story.

During the presentation, the marketing guy reviewed the major features and options of the product. He also covered price. Probably his undoing but knowing how expensive backup solutions are, he thought he had it under control.

I've been told that there are no dumb questions but I beg to disagree. There are dumb questions. They're usually launched by a well-meaning person who possibly wants to look smarter than other IT people or perhaps it's just a poor choice of words. Consider politicians who have to apologize for verbal infractions that often enough end their political careers. I digress.

Up goes the hand of a guy* across from me.

Remember that the marketing guy had just told us about pricing for his products. The lowest price for his solution is $5,000 for a physical appliance or a very reasonable monthly cloud-based backup subscription fee.

The gentleman across the table from me scoffed his rhetorical (I assume) question, "Why would I want to pay $5,000 to backup a $1,000 server at a remote site?"

I mumbled, "It's not the server value that matters, it's the data value."

It's also the value of the loss of productivity at that remote site while waiting for someone to drive over a USB disk or heaven forbid, a tape or set of tapes for restore.

He looked up at me when I commented with a slight look of disdain. But, it's he who should receive the disdain. I think he had some of his coworkers at this seminar too. Hopefully, they didn't embarrass him or say anything to him about his obvious blunder of a comment.

He probably reconsidered it later and took my comment in the spirit it was meant or perhaps he took it positively. I'll never know.

But, his comment did make me think about how some IT people feel about backups. Do some of them, or you, really feel that it's the server value and not the data that you're concerned with? If so, I'm shocked.

Sure, your data can reside on a $1,000 SOHO system or a $10,000 rack-mounted, enterprise unit but it makes no difference in the data's volume or value.

The only thing you need to consider, when deciding on a backup solution for your business is, your data's value. From that, you should select your backup solution. If your data is worth $500,000, then you shouldn't spare expense or go "on the cheap" for a backup, restore and disaster recovery solution.

Shouldn't that point be obvious?

Obviously not.

Of course, no one wants to spend more than he needs to on anything, even a backup solution. But, consider loss of productivity, the cost of data loss, the loss of customer interactions and the loss of confidence in your backup system and the people who maintain it, vendor as well as employee.

The reason I placed this post in Virtually Speaking instead of another area of ZDNet is because I think all too often IT people see virtual machines as expendable entities. They're temporary--more so than a physical system. Some of that perceived lack of value might originate in how easily one can create and recreate a virtual machine. And, that in essence, a virtual machine is a set of files, not a real computer.

It's that perception of value, or the perception of a lack of value, that causes a good-hearted IT professional to make such a silly assertion.

I hope that guy has his engineering drawings stored in a fireproof filing cabinet somewhere safe. I hope he doesn't think that he doesn't need to spend $1,000 on a fireproof cabinet when the paper that the drawings are on only cost $60.

What do you think? Should you spend wisely to protect your data assets or be overly frugal in spite of my advice? Talk back and let me know.

*If you're that guy, don't take too much offense to my comments. I'm sure that you're a very nice person. For me, the free lunch, the product overview and the opportunity to glean a good story from the experience was totally worth it. Thank you.

Topics: IT Priorities, Data Management, Servers


Kenneth 'Ken' Hess is a full-time Windows and Linux system administrator with 20 years of experience with Mac, Linux, UNIX, and Windows systems in large multi-data center environments.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • I'm not an IT guy so I don't really deal in backups...

    ...but can you tell me why it's better to use a $5000/month backup service instead of buying another server and doing daily/weekly/whatever backups to it? Not that I'm doubting what you're saying and all, I'm just curious. Beyond backing up my home desktop to an external HDD, I don't really have much experience on that side of things.
    • Think about it

      What if the place burns down?
      • Er, keep it offsite/different building like we do?

        All of our data gets uploaded about a mile down the road.
    • Not $5,000/month

      His solution is "$5,000 (one-time + maintenance fee) for a physical appliance *OR* a very reasonable monthly cloud-based backup subscription fee (which was not given)."
  • Idiots abound

    I will always remember a particular customer. An architect firm with about 30 architects working on some very large projects.
    His backup consisted of only a single onsite backup solution, which kept only a single backup. I tried to explain how crazy this was, and how he needed a real backup solution. I think I quoted something like $10k to set up something suitable He flat our refused, explained how well it had worked for him for X number of years, and how he didn't need anything better. He wasn't a customer for much longer.

    Around 18 months later I recieved a paniced call from the same guy. His primary data had been lost, and the single backup was totally corrupt. He had lost years and years of work, as well as every copy of the active projects his staff were working on. I asked him how cheap a $10k backup system sounded now, and hung up on him.
    • "LOL"

    • Well...

      I feel embarrassed whenever I fail to convince my customer of an obviously better solution. Ultimately, it's their decision, not mine; but I wonder things like: Did I not care enough? Was my business case flawed? Why didn't I succeed?

      But, sometimes I have to just let it go.
  • Backup alone is not enough...

    In my experience, backup doesn't have a purpose by itself, it is merely a tool. How it is used depends on specific needs. While important a backup is just a subset of a broader Contingency Plan or Disaster Recovery Plan.
    Without a proper Plan any backup, even if properly run, will fail.
  • More education like this is needed!

    Great article Ken. Having been in the backup/disaster recovery world for years, I am also still so surprised how many people don't understand the value of their data. Fully agree with everything you say. Data is the most important asset of every company and must be protected from failures (natural, infrastructure and more importantly again someone who didn't have enough coffee and hit the wrong button this morning!) Every moment that someone spends trying to recover data, is time not spent on running the business. In addition to data backup, companies really do need to invest more on good backup planning.
  • DUH

    Of course data is far more valuable than the hard drive it's stored on. You honestly think the guy at your little seminar was ignorant of that?

    Maybe his point was that it might make more sense to back up a $1000 server with an additional $1000 or maybe $2000 server at a remote site. Was the software on that thing worth $3-4,000? Seems like a fair question.

    Kind of a self-righteous and pedantic column if you ask me.
  • backup


    Is there any cheap price for backup ?
    susi kaos grosir
    • Hi

      I would also be interested in that info.