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August 28, 2012

Online, offsite backup is crucial, but slow to restore

We've recently upgraded our primary desktop computer from a Dell Inspiron 530 to a new HP Pavilion.  The Dell was not dead, but we had one too many BSOD events and it was clear that the time had come.  We cannot afford to be surprised with a dead computer. 

As with any new machine, the problem of data migration comes up.  In our case, we have been using an online backup system for several years.  It is a "set and forget" model, where you just tell the program what directories you want backed up and new or changed files are instantly added.  The comfort of knowing your data is safe, offsite, and ready to be restored at a moment's notice is invaluable.  Anyone who cares about their data needs to sign up for one of these services. 

As we are now in the process of restoring the data to the new machine, we've learned a few things.  The first caveat is that there is really no option for a piecemeal restore, at least, not with the service we are using.  This became an issue when Windows decided that a security update was due at 03:00 in the morning.  The new PC rebooted, and the restore effort was halted.  Not just halted, but terminated.  There was no way to restart from where we left off; the only option was another full restore. 

The second lesson is that a full restore is not terribly fast.  Our current SpeedTest.com results show a download speed of 11.72 MBPS.  Converting to GB/hour, that speed is about 5 Gigabytes per hour.  However, after 10 hours of running (after the reboot halt was discovered), we have downloaded only about 8 GB of a 25 GB drive.  At that rate, it will take nearly two days to restore this drive.  Based on the speed test, we should have been looking at maybe 5 hours.  A far cry from the 30 it may take.  Even if you allow for the fact that other computers and devices were using the network, the same devices were connected during our SpeedTest. 

The lesson learned is to ask about the restore timeline and restart capability before you agree to an annual subscription.  Ask questions, see demos.  In the corporate data availability world, you will hear about recovery point objectives and recovery time objectives, RPO and RTO.  The online backup is very good for a strong good recovery point objective (how much data can you lose-- the amount of data loss is limited to those files changed right before the disaster that were not backed up by the service.  The recovery time objective-- the time until normal operations are resumed, is not the greatest, at least in this experience.


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