Disaster recovery for small-business file servers

Small businesses have less volume to contend with, but often smaller budgets for protecting the file servers. Here are some disaster recovery tips that even the smallest organizations can use to protect critical data.

Even though small businesses don't have the budget or the sheer volume of files that some of the larger enterprises do, you still have to protect the data. Smaller shops have their own issues to overcome that are just as difficult and just as important as the big guys.

Most notably, many small businesses will have only one server for file storage. The major issue with this strategy is that all your eggs are in one basket, and you rely on that same basket to serve all of your other office needs. Therefore, it becomes even more important to properly protect this file server from a possible disaster. Since the bandwidth and hardware required for most off-site replication systems is out of the question here, your choices are limited, but there are options available for you.

Most servers now come with RAID systems already available with whatever disks you get when the server is built. In addition, you can set up very simple RAID systems via Windows and many other common operating systems. By using mirroring via RAID, you can create another copy of the data that can be used for the purposes of disaster recovery (DR) operations, and do so at a low price point. The main drawbacks are that you'll have to configure and manage the RAID systems, and RAID doesn't protect against virus attacks or other real-time damage.

Backup systems
To protect yourself from virus attacks and other threats, you'll want to develop an effective backup strategy. While you can use the NTBackup systems that come with Windows and the backup tools that come with other OSs, you may wish to invest in a third-party backup system. These offer a large number of additional features, especially for scheduling and dealing with open files that NTBackup simply doesn't offer. You'll also need some form of removable media. For very small shops, this can be a DVD burner, but for most others, this will mean a tape drive of some type. Also remember that you should be removing the tapes from the physical location of the tape device on a regular basis, so that the loss of your office space doesn't destroy the backups too. It is wise to perform full backups on a weekly basis—on a day and time each week when there are the fewest users on the server—and incremental backups nightly. This gives you the ability to recover from data-loss outages.

For midsize offices, you may want to consider local replication. Many replication tools work great in a LAN environment, and also offer many-to-one capabilities. This means that you can keep a copy of all the data on the servers that you have replicated to a single server. That DR server may even be a small network-attached storage device (NAS), which can be economically more feasible for these purposes. Much like RAID, these systems tend to be real-time by default, so you'd either have to utilize backup tape to provide point-in-time copies, or use a third-party snapshot tool for that purpose. These tools often come standard with the NAS devices (yet another reason to investigate that avenue), but keep in mind that snapshots to the same physical location don't get your data off-site.

Smaller shops have fewer options when it comes to DR, but that won't stop you from protecting your data. With the right technology, you can find low-cost options that suit the protection needs of your organization, even if you have only one server to protect.

Mike Talon is an IT consultant and freelance journalist with several years of experience in disaster recovery and high availability technologies.