Bob Cramer at LiveVault is on a crusade to move the world to online backup. (In case you haven’t heard of LiveVault.com, go to www.backuptrauma.com for an entertaining introduction to the motivation behind their disk-based online backup services.)
To quote from Bob’s October 20 “Backup to the Future” blog post:
Disk will replace tape for backup.
Bandwidth will replace trucks for getting backups offsite.
Continuous data protection (CDP) will be a core to any future data protection product.
And backup and recovery as an ASP service to SMBs makes perfect sense.
So – what’s a CEO to do to get more business owners to understand they NEED this?
I do believe it’s important to raise awareness about the need for backups—any kind of backups, even the much-vilified tape. And online backups, particularly of the automated variety, have a lot of advantages to them. The problem, however, is one I put to Bob this way:
How do you solve the speed problem? Uploading files over a consumer cable internet connection is painfully slow; via dial-up it’s impossible.
There are millions of businesses out there without T1 connections, most of them companies which would never have considered using tape backups anyway. Disk-based backup for most of us is an external hard drive.
Give us the bandwidth and we’ll jump on the bandwagon—after all, our priceless business data is probably even more vulnerable to disasters like Hurricane Katrina than, and certainly at as much risk of theft as, the tapes which large corporations truck offsite.
Bob’s response was as follows:
Unfortunately, the laws of physics sometime get in the way. So the equation looks something like this:
“How much data are you protecting” X “what is the daily change rate of that data” = “amount of data you need to move.” You take this and divide by your available upstream bandwidth and it will tell you how long it will take to get the backup done.
Looking at it the other way, and matched against your business’ RTO objectives, how much data needs to be recovered and how quickly, gets divided by downstream available bandwidth.
So – here’s how we “screw around with physics”: (1) continuous protection, (2) content reduction, (3) delta backup, and (4) delta restore – all automated in the background.
(1) continuous protection – this approach (often called CDP) enables you to move the changed data “as it changes” incrementally over the wire. By doing this, you spread bandwidth consumption uniformly throughout the day.
(2) content reduction and (3) delta backup – this makes certain you only move the absolute minimum amount of data over the wire necessary. This includes moving only changed blocks vs. files, and only moving the data once and then incremental forever, and not moving the same file more than once.
(4) delta restore – this takes a look at what data you have on your local computer, and what point in time version you want to recover to, looks at “just the differences”, sends only those differences over the wire, and then reweaves the file.
So – of course, you need a broadband connection. But with the best online backup and electronic vaulting solutions out there, the bandwidth requirements can be reduced to the absolute minimum.
But it doesn’t address the real problem, which is a problem for LiveVault and its competitors as much as for the small and home office computer user.
Forget “I want my MTV.” I want cheap broadband. At least I have broadband—but it’s $54/month for cable internet (with a dynamic IP address, yet) in the East Bay, with no provision for dial-up connections if the cable goes down and no POP mail access to my ISP’s mail account if I’m traveling. (One reason I don’t use that e-mail account much, even for personal mail.) DSL would be marginally less expensive, but when I checked out DSL, the signal was so bad that it was slower than dial-up. Scratch that idea. (And even the best DSL connection is slower than cable.)
Because I do so much of my business online, the cost of a cable internet connection falls under the heading of “necessary, and therefore affordable.” Compared to the cost of a T1 connection, it’s pretty trivial Covad’s having a T1 special: only $259.50 per month for your first three months before the regular $599-$1799 price kicks in. (Pardon me while I give myself CPR for the heart attack reading those numbers induced. I knew it was expensive, but I had no idea.)
However, while I might put a T1 line down on the list of things I’d invest in if I started seriously raking in money, I don’t know a single home-office user who has one. I can’t, offhand, think of a home-office user who would need one. Not even the Ur-Guru. Unless, that is, he wanted to transfer the 2.7 TB he backs up weekly over the internet.
So I’m not going to lobby for T1 connections anyone can afford. But any online backup system, from a well-developed, enterprise-oriented service like LiveVault’s to the brand-new free service from Mozy (still in beta), requires a high-speed connection. And I know plenty of consultants who don’t have high-speed connections. (I know an embarrassing (for them) number of solo professionals with AOL accounts, too, but that’s a separate issue.) Either their businesses don’t rely heavily enough on the internet to make the cost of broadband worthwhile, or broadband simply isn’t available where they live.
The United States is dropping further and further down the list of countries with the greatest per capita broadband use. Korea has been top of the list since 2001, but this year the United Kingdom, formerly the nation with the lowest broadband penetration, has passed us up.
This is embarrassing, or would be if I had more national pride. I lived in Britain for four years in the mid-late Nineties. I loved it there, but couldn’t escape the sensation that where computers were concerned, the U.K. was five years behind the U.S. and at least two years behind the rest of Europe.
Nor is the size of our nation a decent excuse. Canada, which has a much smaller population in a far larger territory, has nearly twice as many broadband users as we do, and has done since at least 2001. (Figures taken from websiteoptimization.com.)
If I get into the possible reasons for this national broadband deficiency, I’ll be here for many hours and many pages, and this is already a long newsletter. Instead I’ll close with a call to action aimed at CEOs like Bob Cramer as well as the SOHO users who make up most of my own clients:
Lobby for broadband access. Without affordable broadband, 85% of the population is cut off from online backup solutions. (Make that affordable secure broadband—while I like the idea of free wi-fi as much as the next person, I’m not about to send my important business data over a café connection.)
And without broadband, these are your backup alternatives (as described by Mozy):
- Burn a new CD or DVD every Sunday night and store them at your brother-in-law’s office like it’s your religion.
- Buy a $200 external hard drive and obsessively “push the button” and hope your office doesn’t burn down.
- Do nothing and don’t worry about backup. (We suggest closing your eyes, plugging your ears and repeating “I’m in my happy place, I’m in my happy place”.)
- Run a cron job of rsync, gzip and mcrypt piped over ssh to your friend’s server over his DSL line.