April 1, 2020
Helpful Tips to Protect Your Data When Working from Home
The unprecedented situation with the COVID-19 outbreak has led to governments directing their citizens to stay at home. The business community has been forced to implement these social distancing measures to help slow down the spread of the coronavirus. Work from home, or teleworking, has been adopted by many companies to ensure business continuity. Providing the necessary technologies and tools for employees to be able to work from home is only one part of the challenge facing IT departments. The other part is what to do to protect business data and carry out backups in this new decentralized landscape. This blog post explains how these circumstances affect the overall approach to routine backup activities, recovery processes and other aspects of backup strategy, as well as offers practices to follow during this period.
NAKIVO Backup & Replication offers a range of features to help you to protect and preserve your business data, even when working from home. Download the Free Trial to see how our functionality can help you adapt your backup infrastructure to the new circumstances.
The fact that all or most of your employees are now working from home may significantly affect the way you manage your backup infrastructure, depending on its size, structure, backup retention scheme, etc. The best possible way is to keep today’s backup activities as close to the norm as possible. The key principle is to keep the approach centralized. A wise practice would be to work out a unified data protection approach for all the employees working remotely, or at least groups of them, depending on what kind of data they are dealing with. If it is possible, set up the same backup destination, same schedule, same recovery algorithms, etc. to streamline all the data protection processes. This can help you with both the routine management tasks and returning to normal operations after the social distancing period.
While your company’s employees are working from home, it is important that you are able to view all your backup activities from a single pane of glass. To better understand what this means, think about the management of remote or branch offices: they are usually managed from a central office. Put differently, you should be able to centrally monitor and manage backup activities on each of your employees’ workstation, which can in turn help you reduce recovery times to a minimum.
When switching to remote work, it is important to make sure that the new conditions allow you to meet your RPOs and RTOs. For a quick reference, RPOs, or Recovery Point Objectives, refer to the maximum amount of data your company can tolerate to lose and are measured in time from the incident occurrence to the latest valid backup. RTOs, or Recovery Time Objectives, define the amount of time required to restore applications and systems after an incident. In a normal situation, the best practice is two-pronged. First, it is recommended to keep the most recent backups on-site to allow for fast restores. Second, send a backup copy off-site (usually, to the cloud) for disaster recovery purposes. Additionally, it is wise to keep older backups archived in cloud storage, just in case you need them. Today, in remote work conditions, this approach may be difficult to follow.
Look at the example of remote office management once again. Quite often, backup data is kept locally, which allows to reduce the amount of data travelling over WAN and speed up the file-level recovery. Put differently, keeping backup data on-site helps improve the performance of recovery processes, and consequently the RPOs and RTOs. In the case of remote workers, however, this is not possible from the hardware perspective, which makes off-site backups the only available option.
As backup data is being transferred to the data center in your office or to the cloud, data packages are travelling over WAN. In view of this, the network bandwidth available to each of your remote workers is an important issue to consider. If a person is working from home, they may encounter a number of internet-related troubles, including total outage. A poor internet connection may lead to the corruption or loss of backup data. Additionally, if the backup data is stored off-site, the recovery processes also take more time than in the case of an on-site data storage option.
Backup Data Storage Options
A typical practice for many businesses is to keep at least two copies of backup data – on-site and off-site. For further reliability, some companies also prefer to keep one more backup data copy, usually on external media, such as hard drives or tape cartridges.
In a situation with remote work, you should follow the time-proven principle of backup strategy: your employee’s backup data should not be stored on their production machine only. To eliminate a single point of failure, backup data should be sent off-site, that is, either to the office-based data center or to the cloud. The choice between these two options depends on the type of infrastructure you have, the amount of data to be backed up, the frequency of backups, available bandwidth, among other things. Overall, cloud-based solutions are widely accepted as the most appropriate option for the work-from-home period. Storing data in the cloud provides benefits in terms of availability, flexibility, scalability and security.
The functionality of NAKIVO Backup & Replication allows you to send a copy of your backups directly to the cloud, either AWS or Azure. Given that your employees are now working from home, this method may turn out challenging when it comes to network resources, so it is better to avoid backing up large amounts of data at a time, if possible. With our software, you can perform recovery of files and applications objects directly from deduplicated and compressed backups stored in the cloud. In addition, NAKIVO Backup & Replication, you can manage backup-to-cloud operations from basically any location, which is crucially important when working from home.
Overall, the best possible approach is to combine the two above-mentioned options: backup data should be stored both in your office-based data center and in the cloud. However, depending on your infrastructure, available hardware and network resources, and the type and amount of data to be backed up, this approach may turn out inappropriate in today’s situation. If you are seeking a compromise solution, cloud storage is likely to be a better option.
Limited network bandwidth can become a trouble not only for backup activities, but for working from home in general. In most cases, this issue falls beyond the control of an IT administrator as remote workers generally rely on local internet providers. In view of this, consider implementing some of the measures to make your backup data more “lightweight”, if possible. Here is a list of factors that affect bandwidth consumption rates:
Size of backed-up data. Your company may need to perform full backups on a regular basis, but this obviously increases the volume of data that has to be sent over WAN during backup activities. NAKIVO Backup & Replication allows you to perform incremental backups, which means that only changed data blocks since the last full backup, that is, increments, are sent to the repository during a backup job. If it is acceptable for you, postpone scheduled full backups until you return to normal operations and employees are back at the office.
Scheduling. It is better to schedule backups in a way so that they do not interfere with your employees’ production traffic. This is especially helpful in case both the network bandwidth and a PC’s resources are limited, which is often the case when working from home.
Bandwidth throttling. One of the features of NAKIVO Backup & Replication allows you to set bandwidth consumption limits for your backup and other data protection activities, thus ensuring they do not consume more bandwidth than you can allocate. You can create different throttling scenarios to run on different schedules.
Deduplication. The purpose of this technique is to help you reduce the size of your backups and thus reduce the storage space requirements anywhere between 10 and 30 times. If enabled, however, deduplication can lead to increased consumption of network resources, which may be undesirable for a work-from-home mode.
VPN bandwidth usage. Some of your remote workers may need a VPN tunnel to access data stored on your local servers. This, in turn, to a certain extent degrades the speed of the internet, which is the result of several factors, including low speed of your normal connection, large distance between your worker’s PC and the target server, VPN protocol, and so on. It is important to make sure that your company’s VPN solution is reliable enough to support most of your employees attempting to access the internal assets at once.
If you decide to temporarily switch to the cloud storage option, you should take care about the security of backup data that is being sent over WAN. As data packages are travelling over network, they are especially vulnerable to unauthorized disclosure or modification, both accidental and intentional. The functionality of NAKIVO Backup & Replication allows you to encrypt your backup data, thus ensuring its safety. Our software relies on a worldwide acknowledged AES 256-bit encryption algorithm: it transforms the source data into an unreadable ciphertext. This feature can help you protect your backup data “in flight”, that is, while it is travelling to the cloud, and also “at rest”, that is, once the data reaches its destination.
So What Should You Do?
Moving to remote work to a certain extent affects routine operations of most companies, and data protection management is not an exception. With that, your new backup strategy should be designed in a way to let you quickly return to normal operations after your employees come back to the office. Cloud-based technologies are widely acknowledged as the most convenient solution for the work-from-home period, and also a perfect destination for your backup data. Your new backup strategy should be centralized, which can help you ensure that your backups are valid and available whenever necessary, as well as reduce the time required for data recovery.