An IT provider asked us:  “We’re working on further standardizing our backup for clients and had a couple questions.  We want the best backup solution for a small business. Are we better off for smaller 1-10 client (or even larger) networks to add Active Directory, File Server, and a “golden image” or use image-based backups for all devices? Why? What about clients with no servers at all?  We want to avoid unnecessarily high charges for off-site backup (to us and clients), so only imaging a server with off-site backup and virtualization seems ideal for this, but haven’t put into practice yet.  What is the best backup solution for a Small business?

The less downtime the customer can afford, the shorter the Recovery Time Objective should be

The less downtime the customer can afford, the shorter the Recovery Time Objective should be

Our Answer:  Microsoft training generally says use a server with Active Directory (domain) for 10 users and above. Use workgroup below that.  Whether you choose to go with the Microsoft answer is up to you.  Obviously, workgroups have an upper limit of 20 users (number of SMB connections) if you’re using a workstation as a Quasi-server.  The issue is really about 1) security 2) manageability.  When an employee quits and the network is a domain you can instantly change the password or lock out the account and he will have  no access to any PCs.  Management, including group policy is ultimately easier on a domain, saving IT staff time.  Obviously, some training is required for domains/active directory/ group policy for this to be true so it depends on if YOU are comfortable with server OS.  If you don’t go there, you will never grow your business to manage bigger customers who do have domains.   But the question of whether to have a server or not shouldn’t be driven by backup (It almost seems like that’s what you  implied??)

Whether the customer has a “real” server or not Gartner says 28% of your corporate data ends up on laptops/desktops/smart phones anyway (unless of course you use draconian group policy to prevent it).  So the way we see it, backing up workstations is a good idea anyway.   For $20-$40 per machine for a PERPERTUAL (not monthly) license of Intelliback why not do it?  The hard part is when they have like 4-6 virtual or physical servers and they are staring down the barrel of  higher per server costs for an imaging product. Again, for the lower end of the market you can go with something effective and inexpensive like Intelliback server ($150-$299 perpetual or $4.16 per month).

10 users is a magic number.  Relatively few clients below 10 users want to buy a managed service contract.   Above 10, we would argue they SHOULD have a hybrid backup solution (combination of local drive/appliance AND a cloud component protecting the more mission critical LOB data).  97% of all restores will be from local backup (assuming you have a reasonable local retention or versioning policy like 14 versions back) so focus there first.

Far too many of us in IT forget that the high price we make the customer pay for cloud or offsite is only for that last 3% (Fire, flood, hurricane, theft, etc).   A simple local backup appliance plus software (plus you monitoring it all) provides storage to the end user at MSRP price of less than 8 cents per Gigabite per month over a 3 year life span (We have spreadsheets that show this – email your sales rep or customer service if you want one). Amazon and Google cloud uploads add on the order of 3 cents per gig per month.  Compare these public cloud prices to BDR (Backup and Disaster Recovery) vendors and see what is most cost effective.

Whether a customer needs a BDR box (versus a backup appliance, NAS, or simple USB drives on site) depends on if their RTO (recovery time objective) is below 2-3 days or not.  If the customer claims they can’t afford 3 days of downtime then tell them “well Mr. customer then you need to pay the up front and monthly fees for a BDR”.  Because without a BDR they could easily  see 2 days to get a new server (or replacement part) and a day of messing around to restore the image.  (If everything goes well).

One expert suggested protecting workgroup users with dropbox, box, anchor or similar sync products.  The thought about protecting that 28% data with dropbox or anchor is a good one—- If  security isn’t much of an issue (think HIPAA) and you think every user will *always* store important data in the replicated folders.  We don’t see how that’s too much different than asking them to store stuff on the server rather than the local C: drive though.

We think the Best Backup Solution for a Small Business is generally a combination of at least these 6 things:

  1. a Backup Appliance with removable local drives and mirroring.  Or…optionally,  a BDR  if RTO is less than 2 days.  Or…optionally removable USB drives for very cost restrained customers.
  2. Good Imaging Software. Something like StorageCraft for bigger clients or IntelliBack for cost sensitive clients.
  3. (optional) Replication to another site in your town (i.e. to a trusted IT provider, 2nd office, partner site, or even a secure home). Replication in the same town allows a removable drive to be brought onsite in hours for full image restores (versus waiting days or weeks for cloud)
  4. (optional) Replication to an Affordable public Cloud (such as Amazon or Google) for either entire image or at least mission critical files.
  5. (optional) Use encryption either with the imaging software or the Backup Appliance hardware (whole drive encryption) if HIPAA or regulatory compliance is needed.
  6. A great IT provider or MSP to install and monitor the solution.