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All About Backups

We’ve tried many, many backup solutions over the years: Symantec BackupExec, Storagecraft, Datto, Intronis, Vaultlogix, Veeam, N-able… There’s probably a few in there that I’m forgetting, but the point is that we’ve tried a lot.  

The reason why we switched so many times comes down to two factors: manageability and affordability. Backup is a form of insurance. How much you’re willing to spend depends on how much protection you need to sleep at night. It’s definitely been a journey of trial and error to strike the right balance.

File Level Backup

The simplest solution we tried was N-able (https://www.n-able.com/products/backup). It takes a basic approach of backing up files one at a time; compressed files go into an archive and unzipped files come out when restored. This is also how most popular do-it-yourself backup solutions work, such as Carbonite, Backblaze, and iDrive.

The biggest draw-back to file level backup is system restores. Backing up an operating system while it’s running is a bit like maintaining a plane while it’s flying. It can be done with VSS writers, but successful restore is not guaranteed. Booting up a system restored through one of these solutions is always white-knuckled fun. Hope it works!

Image Level Backup

I much prefer an image level backup that captures the entire disk. It’s a very reliable process especially on virtual machines. A virtual machine is already a self-contained image, so making a perfect copy is a fairly straightforward process for a competent backup solution.

Datto (https://www.datto.com) is a popular backup solution for MSPs that we used for awhile. Datto takes an appliance approach, which means they provide a dedicated backup device that includes everything you need: software, on-premise storage, as well as cloud storage. However, this approach can get expensive quick. Rather than allowing you to pop in cheap drives when you run out of space, you need to pay through the nose for an upgraded appliance. Cloud storage also come at a premium, so expect to pay above market compared to Amazon S3 or Azure Storage.

Introducing Altaro

Phew. Just explaining all that was exhausting. So you can imagine our relief when we finally settled on Altaro (https://www.altaro.com). Altaro is a virtual machine backup solution that’s easy to setup and a pleasure to maintain. It takes a less heavy-handed approach compared to Datto by allowing you to choose your own backup destinations. This means we can use a cheap off-the-shelf NAS device with globs of storage or a simple USB drive in a pinch. Altaro also supports several cloud storage options, including our favorite: Wasabi (https://wasabi.com). Wasabi is an Amazon S3 clone that’s only $6/mo per TERABYTE. That’s cheap!

No MSP geared backup solution would be complete without a central console. Making sure all backups are running perfectly in Altaro is as simple as scrolling through the list of servers every morning…and I do mean every morning.  We never want to be caught with our pants down, and we make positive confirmations of successful backups rather than relying on failure alerts. Backups stop running for any number of reasons. For example, a tech might pause a backup to troubleshoot and forget to turn it back on! In this case you’ll never get a failure alert because technically there is no failure (other than failure of a knucklehead that needs a stern lecture). That’s why we sort by “Last Backup” and confirm the last time we had a successful backup. Sometimes we find surprises like the example below, where the backup’s been running for 3 days, which may indicate a performance issue:


We can’t fix lost data.

Lost data is worth thousands if not millions of dollars.

Lost data is forever.

Is that dramatic enough for you?

While Altaro is an excellent product, we don’t put all our eggs in one basket. That’s why we implement other data protection technologies such as Shadow Copies and Hyper-V Replication to complement Altaro. You can never have too much of a good thing, and you can be sure we’ll be doubling or tripling up on protection when it comes to our client data.

Interested in my experience with Microsoft 365’s remote desktop? Read about it next.

4 thoughts on “All About Backups”

  1. Everything is very open with a very clear explanation of the challenges. It was really informative. Your website is very useful. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Thank you for the feedback! I’m looking for more topics to blog about so please feel free to submit requests if you want to learn more!

  2. Wow that was odd. I just wrote an incredibly long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t show up.

    Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Anyway, just
    wanted to say superb blog!

    1. I would have loved to have read your feedback. That’s a bummer.

      But I appreciate the kudos nonetheless. Thanks!

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