Backup is the ‘sweet spot’ on the data protection spectrum

Data is growing exponentially. Not just in size, but also in importance to organizations. So how do you protect that data while simultaneously assuring it can be quickly recovered in case of an emergency?

A recent Online Tech “Tuesdays at 2” webinar discussed how organizations can turn offsite backup into a recovery option.

In Transforming Your Offsite Backup into a Real Recovery Option,” guest host Steven Aiello led an in-depth dive into what he calls the “data protection spectrum” and how companies should – and should not – use products on that spectrum to create a better offsite backup and recovery solution.


Aiello was formerly a Senior Product Engineer at Online Tech and currently works as a Technical Architect for Chicago-based IT consulting firm AHEAD, where he helps build infrastructure and security solutions for large organizations in the financial, health care and other assorted verticals.

Aiello discussed the following data protection spectrum: availability, replication, backup and storage. While discussing the pros and cons of each category, Aiello stressed that all of them can play a key role depending on an organization’s needs.

“It’s not that any one is better or worse than the other,” he said. “It’s using the right tool for the right job, and how all of these pieces plays into your data protection strategy.”

He added later that a single organization could find that it needs to be using every entry on the spectrum. “Most likely, for a large organization, that’s exactly where they need to be.”

Below is a brief recap of Aiello’s points. For a deeper dive, a replay of the webinar is available.


By definition, availability means one thing: Applications never go down. It also means another thing: A huge capital investment. Aiello says that in exchange for six 9s – or 99.9999% uptime – companies need to be willing to hand over a six-figure check.

But it could very well be worth the price. Aiello uses the example of a trading house that is trading billions of dollars of securities each day. That same company can lose tens of millions of dollars if an application is down for minutes.

Availability has a very specific business use case, so we won’t spend a lot of time on it here. But Aiello does note one distinct limitation: The laws of physics. “The fastest that we can shoot data across the globe is at the speed of light. If your application can only tolerate a couple of milliseconds of latency, the distance from point A to point B starts to come into play.”


Replication serves another specific use case; reducing recovery point objective (RPO) and recover time objective (RTO) scenarios at a moderately expensive – yet considerably less than availability – price tag.

Aiello said the benefit of replication is two-fold:

First, data centers can be located further apart because the replication from data center A to data center B is not synchronous.

Also, unlike availability, replication technology does allow for a moderate amount of data retention. Still, Aiello stresses that neither availability nor replication are the equivalent of data backup. Asking a company in the health care industry, as an example, to keep medical records for 21 years in a replicated model is not feasible. “It becomes too expensive,” Aiello said.


Skipping over “Backup” on the data protection spectrum for a moment – since backup was the primary focus of the webinar – Aiello described archiving as a business deciding “the likelihood of this data being relevant, past 30 days, is almost nonexistent.”

An archiving system is the cheapest on the spectrum because a business may never need the data. If it does, it will pay for the retrieval. That’s a fair tradeoff considering the likely of needing it is minimal.


Aiello calls backup “the sweet spot” in data protection because it’s relatively inexpensive when compared to the replication and availability models but allows organizations to start building out a recovery plan.

What is an appropriate backup solution? Along with being granular, able to restore specific files and having a catalog, Aiello pointed to the following “must-haves”:

Encryption. “That was something we took a great, great deal of pride here at Online Tech, in working together. It was always about protecting the customer data. That goes from the primary storage platforms that the production systems run on, all the way to those backups as they leave the production environment. They are encrypted in transit, and they’re encrypted at rest.”

Data durability. “Backups should be durable. When you pick a backup solution … you are essentially betting the company on how reliable that backup technology is. It’s a big, big bet that you’re making.

“When I look at a backup solution, the first question I ask, ‘What’s your data durability rating? Has your product literally ever lost data, because of a malfunction?’”

While defining backup, Aiello found it important to discuss what backup is not. “I’m seeing some people in the industry try to use a couple of different things to be backup, which it’s not designed for.”

The first is enterprise file sync & share (EFSS) products like DropBox or There is no revision history in these products. Having multiple copies of any file that is only a point in time does not constitute a backup. It constitutes multiple copies of a file, but it doesn’t allow you to step back in time to recover corrupt data.

The second is snapshots, a tool used as a feature of a replication strategy that cannot be confused for being a backup. First, if an administrator is running servers with a bunch of snapshots on them, there will be a decrease in performance. They’re not designed to be kept around for a long time. Also, they’re not granular and there’s no catalog. “If you have to find one file out of three-quarters of a million, and it’s been given some sort of random label, your RTOs and RPOs just explode,” he said. Finally, snapshots offer no encryption.


Want to hear more from Aiello and other disaster recovery experts? Join us at a one of our upcoming half-day workshops scheduled to be held at our Indianapolis Data Center on Thursday, Dec. 22 and our Metro Detroit Data Center on Thursday, Feb. 19. Attendance at both workshops is limited to 50, so register now!

Aiello will be joined on our expert panel by Baseline Data Services founder and president Lance Thompson and Online Tech Director of Infrastructure Nick Lumsden. They’ll present the following agenda at both workshops:

  • 8-a.m.: Breakfast, networking and check-in
  • 9-10 a.m.: Hands-on Business Continuity Planning
  • 10-11 a.m.: IT Disaster Recovery Architecture Options: 3 Real Scenarios
  • 11 a.m.-noon: Real Life Disaster Recovery: Precious Vicarious Lessons


WEBINAR: Lessons Learned From The Disaster Recovery Trenches


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Mitigating the management expense of offsite backup

Online Tech Co-CEO

For 15 years, Online Tech has provided data backup services to our colocation and hosting clients. We used to back up to tapes in a large multi-tape system, then transport them from one data center to another. We moved to disk-based backup when the total cost to operate per GB of protected data using the disk was clearly less than tape.

Yan Ness

We knew we had to find a new way with a lower total cost of ownership (TCO) if we were going to keep up with the data growth. The tipping point was when we saw our costs to maintain the physical tape drive (for oil, pads and new arms) was 5 figures per year. All that money on moving parts to back up data in the modern era? … Then came disk, and a whole new slew of options.

Over this period we’ve learned what really drives the TCO for backup. In fact, we analyze it all the time and make the necessary investments to deliver the most effective solution for the most efficient TCO. It’s what we do. Here are a few things we’ve learned doing that for 20 years:

Monitoring: Like all systems, a backup system (software, storage, etc.) needs to be monitored and someone needs to respond to it when something doesn’t work properly. Unfortunately, due to the intense pressure on IT staff, backup is often the task with the lowest priority – until there’s a data loss.

Software: Backup is an application like any other and relies on software to run on the server and at some central location to operate. Software is sometimes sold as a single, one-time license with a smaller (10-20%) maintenance contract or a recurring monthly fee, often based on the amount of data protected.

Servers: The backup software runs on the servers being backed up, but also there’s a server component that needs to run on a centralized server. This is where the management and the administration of the backups occur. It might also include the storage drives.

Storage: The backup software has to write the backup jobs to a storage device somewhere. This storage device is generally a disk drive of some type. Ideally it’s expandable, or you will have to take the gamble and guess how much storage you will need over time. If data is taken offsite, there is usually a local copy for file stores, etc., and a remote copy for the offsite portion.

Offsite: Proper backups should be taken offsite. The transport and storage of the media data offsite can grow dramatically depending on the length of retention and quantity of data. Over time, it’s important to track this cost carefully.

Failed jobs: Every time a backup fails, someone has to manually inspect and restart the job. And not just with a simple click of a button. Restarting a backup job requires careful coordination to avoid negatively impacting production performance. It takes about 60 minutes to deal with a failed job – on average. Some are very quick. Some can take a long time to sleuth why they fail. Extrapolating that across thousands of backup jobs and a 1- to 5-percent failure rate (not that uncommon) can quickly begin to consume staff hours and, more importantly, put data at risk. Thankfully, we weren’t using tape backups or our failure rate would have easily been 50 percent or more, as those stuck with using tape media are still experiencing extremely high failure rates.

File restores: In many cases, restoring a single file can take hours (or more) of someone’s time, depending on the level of self-serve capability there is for the end-user and the type of media.

Encryption: Given the plethora of new regulations surrounding data, it’s important to make sure the data is encrypted in transit and at rest. Without encryption you may be exposing yourself for significant fines.

Backup Management: All these components have to be patched (the backup software) or at times replaced (disk drives); vendors managed; track capacity and utilization, etc. For many organizations this isn’t core.

Like everyone else, our data grows exponentially. A few years back, we reached a level where our standard point solution for offsite backup was being stretched beyond capacity. With 100s of terabytes of data to protect across hundreds of servers, the amount of data had become so large and diverse that the process of backing it up was threatening to impact production performance. Worse, our backup jobs began taking longer than the allotted backup window. This meant failed jobs and even more complications.

When we completed our total cost of ownership analysis of our backup, we indeed found that the failed jobs, backup management and offsite were the biggest cost drivers. Further analysis showed if we could dramatically reduce the time backups took, we would:

A) Reduce the failures, which are very expensive and add risk.

B) Reduce the costs to take the data offsite, because there would be less data to take offsite.

C) Reduce management costs, because there would be less infrastructure to manage to protect the same data.

After six months of requirements gathering, vendor research, reference checks and testing in our lab, we integrated a product called Avamar by EMC into our backup product and portal. The result:

  • Backup jobs that used to take many hours now take just a few minutes.
  • Failure rates are down 90%.
  • Reduced transport costs to take data offsite 90% (deduplication).
  • Initial seed backups are much faster, allowing us to protect even more data.
  • Jobs can be restarted within the backup window, reducing risk of data loss.
  • We can protect significantly more data with the same management costs.
  • Clients and staff can securely self-serve a file-level restoration.
  • Encryption at source, in transit and at storage is built-in reducing risk of data loss and without penalty to processing

These types of investments and management of our IT infrastructure on behalf of our clients means our clients maximize their ROI on their IT spend. After all, that’s our real job.


We spent HOW much time to restore that backup file? Significantly less with file-level restoration

Offsite backup and recovery: Understanding the hidden costs

White paper: Disaster Recovery

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Detroit’s tech renaissance enhanced by infrastructure development from Online Tech, Fibertech Networks and others

If the burgeoning economic renaissance in the city of Detroit is to fully take root, there’s some serious infrastructure work to be done. And not just “infrastructure” in terms of fixing the crumbling roads or creating mass transportation options, like the M1 Rail streetcar project.

Online Tech’s Metro Detroit Data Center

No, we’re talking technology infrastructure.

A recent story at highlighted some of the city’s technological marvels – such as fire stations rigging fax machines to knock over soda cans full of coins. That, folks, is Detroit’s emergency communication system. Really. Check it out for yourself.

Want more? At city hall, more than 85 percent of computers are running Windows XP.

Now, the city of Detroit’s economic issues have been making national news for quite some time. And while its internal IT turmoil doesn’t directly impact the success or failure of the growing number of tech startups sprouting up in and around the city, it is an indicator of just how behind-the-times the metropolitan area is in terms of technology.

Online Tech co-CEO Yan Ness spoke of Metro Detroit’s immense potential when the company announced the opening of its 34,000-square-foot Metro Detroit Data Center.

“Our new data center brings crucial technology infrastructure to a city with an economic engine that is beginning to rumble,” Ness said in a release. “Data centers are the indispensable infrastructure for today’s U.S. companies in the same way that large factories were in the 20th century and railroads were in the 19th century.”

Online Tech has forged a relationship with another company that has a goal of elevating Detroit’s technological infrastructure. Fibertech Networks, a co-sponsor of the recent open house celebration of our Metro Detroit Data Center, has completed roughly 200 miles of its planned 800-mile fiber-optic network that will snake through the city.

(And, like Online Tech, Fibertech Networks also has a presence in Indianapolis.)

The Detroit project – offering both dark fiber and optical broadband options – is expected to be complete by the third quarter of 2015, and with anticipated build-out to end-user locations, Fibertech expects the network to reach a total of 1,000 miles in two years. It is the biggest of Fibertech’s 30 network projects around the Northeast and Midwest portion of the country.

“We definitely have the same perspective on Detroit that Online Tech has, or we wouldn’t have invested in the city,” said Fibertech Networks marketing and communications director Dan Clifton. “It was the government that declared bankruptcy, not the city. Nobody wants to see Detroit die, so we’re one of many looking to invest in Detroit.”

The Detroit-area network will pass through suburban cities of Trenton, Canton, Dearborn, Southfield, Warren and others. The company was lured to the area by an anchor client and is now preparing to market its services to universities, healthcare institutions and other multi-location organizations.

“We are excited to join other businesses in moving the needle to invest in Detroit and the state of Michigan, infusing the area with an economic development initiative that we believe will help foster telecom competition, and business and employment growth,” said Fibertech Chairman and CEO John K. Purcell.


Online Tech is hosting a disaster recovery workshop on Thursday, Feb. 19. Attendance is limited to 50 people, so register now!

Our expert panel will include Baseline Data Services founder Lance Thompson, technical architect Steven Aiello and Online Tech’s director of infrastructure Nick Lumsden.

The half-day event begins with an 8 a.m. breakfast and will cover business continuity planning, IT architecture options for meeting three disaster recovery scenarios and real-life recovery examples.


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Miss our Metro Detroit Data Center open house celebration? Here’s a recap

Our ace photographer, Chris Rizzo, took so many excellent pictures at our Metro Detroit Data Center open house on Dec. 2 that it took us a full 10 days to whittle it down to our 10 favorites to post here.

Among the strong turnout – approximately 400 registered for the event – were political dignitaries like Westland mayor William R. Wild, Wayne County Commissioner Richard LeBlanc and a representative from U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow’s office.

Mayor Wild seemed to have a good time while kicking off our ceremonies:

And LeBlanc (right) presented Online Tech co-CEOs Mike Klein (left) and Yan Ness with a resolution for opening the 34,500-square-foot data center that delivers secure, compliant, enterprise-class hosting and colocation services to Metro Detroit clients.

Speaking of clients, many of them were on hand as well. Here, Richard Anderson of Kelly Services speaks about what it’s like to be an Online Tech client.

Also participating in the festivities were Lance Thompson of Baseline Data Services, who told the crowd why he chose to partner with Online Tech; David Barton of UHY Advisors, who discussed how positive an auditing partnership can be; and Online Tech founder Gary Baker, who discussed the company’s evolution as it celebrates its 20th anniversary.

Attendees toured the new facility and got the low-down on details – like its three Cummins 500kW diesel generators and high-availability dual Cisco-powered network – from Online Tech Director of Infrastructure Nick Lumsden:

Of course, we had the standard open house activities. Like a ribbon-cutting …

… and a champagne toast from Ness and Klein.

A little less standard: We collected donations for one of our charitable partners, Pets for Vets.

We’d like to once again thank the EMC Corporation for sponsoring the event, along with supporting sponsorship from Fibertech Networks.

Oh, and last but not least, a big shout-out to Joe’s Gourmet Catering for the delicious food.


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Central Indiana ISSA Holiday Party

‘Tis the season for holiday parties! While we know your schedule is probably very busy between the end of quarter push and the family just about to show up on your doorstep, we think you should make room for a little bit of infosec fun. This Thursday from 6 to 9pm, The Central Indiana ISSA will be putting on their annual holiday party. The event will be at the Tow Yard Brewery in Indianapolis, and promises to be a great opportunity to network with your infosec peers. There will be food, drinks, and prizes, so make sure you show up!

Don’t yet know ISSA? You should. The Information Systems Security Association (ISSA) group has been providing education to the infosec community for many years, through a mixture of seminars, networking events, and online resources. If you aren’t a member, sign up to become a part of the community and keep informed on all the goings on you’ll want to participate in. For more information on the central Indiana ISSA, head over to their site.

Online Tech will be a sponsor of the holiday party this week. We’re looking forward to meeting with people from around the Indiana region to answer questions about our new, state-of-the-art Indianapolis data center, and to wind down from our most recent Metro Detroit data center grand opening.

If you haven’t yet gotten your tickets for the holiday party, there’s still time. Pick up a few tickets and bring a friend or colleague. We look forward to seeing you there, and happy holidays!

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Be our guest at the Metro Detroit data center grand opening today!

Today is the day, and it only gets better, when you get to see our new data center!

With redundant networks and power and cooling to spare, it’s no wonder 3 generators are also parked there.

On PCI, HIPAA & SOX, we’ll quickly attest. Our auditor David will tell you the rest.

Lance from Baseline and Richard from Kelly, will share client tales, both the sweet and the smelly.

The champagne is chilled, the goodies are queued, all we need now – is, well, just YOU!

Come one and come all, before it’s too late – RSVP to show up at the gate!

Online Tech Metro Detroit Data Center


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Coming to our Metro Detroit Data Center open house? Bring a dog bowl. (Explanation below)

Are you planning to attend the open house celebration at our new Metro Detroit Data Center on Tuesday?

If not, there’s still time to register. We’d love to see you there.

If so, we have a favor to ask: Bring a leash. Or a dog bed. Or some flea and tick preventative.

No, we’re not supplementing our data center business with a doggy daycare. We’ve teamed up with the southeast Michigan chapter of Pets for Vets and are collecting supplies and monetary donations for the very worthy cause.

Laurie Carr is the director of the chapter, which started as a state-wide organization in 2011 before narrowing its focus this fall. (Another chapter remains focused on the west side of the state.)

She said the organization’s mission is two-fold: 1) To show military veterans a debt of gratitude by matching them with an ideal companion pet that can help heal emotional wounds, and 2) To give shelter dogs a second chance at health and happiness.

Here’s how it works: Interested veterans complete an application on the national organization’s website. Those from southeastern Michigan go to Carr, who completes an in-depth interview and home inspection that helps define what kind of dog would best complement the veteran.

At that point, Carr and her three certified dog trainers start searching dog shelters for the ideal dog. Once found, the dogs undergo rewards-based training for between three to eight weeks before being given to the veteran at no cost.

Along with a new companion, the veteran receives a dog owner start-up package. That’s why we’re looking for donations of the following:
• Six-foot nylon leashes
• Nylon collar with a clip
• EZ Walk Harness
• Frontline Flea/Tick Preventative
• Stainless steel dog bowls with a rubber base
• Small, medium and large dog beds
• Small, medium and large dog crates
• Dog treats
• Dog toys
• Dog shampoo

Carr said monetary donations to help cover the cost of the organization’s overhead are also welcome.

Here’s a quick look at what Pets for Vets offers our military veterans and shelter dogs:


Open house on Dec. 2: Check out Metro Detroit’s newest data center

Consider joining Online Tech in supporting Feeding America this holiday season

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Disaster recovery expert to guest host Online Tech ‘Tuesdays at 2′ webinar

After 30 years in the disaster recovery industry, Lance Thompson has plenty of tales to tell. A few are extreme – like making huge efforts to help clients through the aftermath of hurricanes, floods, tornados and fires. Most are born from more mundane, but considerably more common, issues like human error, maintenance issues or power outages.


But they all come together to form the basis of Thompson’s message in an upcoming Online Tech ‘Tuesdays at 2’ educational seminar on December 9 titled “Lessons Learned From the Disaster Recovery Trenches.”

“I’ve got enough disaster recovery war stories to do five webinars,” says Thompson, founder and president of Indiana-based Baseline Data Services. “Everything from customers who have really screwed up to those who have really done it right.”

Baseline’s focus is strictly on providing disaster recovery solutions, online data protection and virtual private servers to hundreds of companies across 44 states. It has a perfect track record of 100-percent recovery success after 123 (and counting) declared disasters.

The company also became the first customer at Online Tech’s new Indianapolis data center. The two organizations were so impressed with each other that they formed a partnership to extend each other’s services to their respective clients.

Thompson’s presentation will be an executive-level overview of best practices to ensure an organization can meet the “recover” promise of disaster recovery. He calls it the “common sense view of disaster recovery.” (Register here.)

One point he’ll cover is designing disaster recovery plans from an application perspective to get the best value for your strategy. He’ll also discuss, among other topics, why making a disaster recovery plan simply to satisfy auditors is a fool’s errand.


Along with hosting our December 9 webinar, Thompson will be among Online Tech’s guests at our open house celebration for our new Metro Detroit Data Center.

You are also invited to join us at the event, scheduled for 3-7 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 2 to get a sneak peek at our newly commissioned data center, network with Metro Detroit IT peers, meet Thompson and other Michigan and Indiana clients and enjoy great food and drink, including a champagne toast.

Reserve your spot at the open house today!


Disaster Recovery white paper

Webinar: Transforming Your Offsite Backup Into a Real Recovery Option

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Please consider joining Online Tech in supporting Feeding America this holiday season

On the eve of Thanksgiving, Online Tech employees invite you to join us in giving back to those less fortunate.

This holiday season, Online Tech is raising funds for two affiliates of Feeding America, a nationwide network of member food banks that feed America’s hungry and engage the country in the fight to end hunger.

Employees at our Ann Arbor headquarters and two Ann Arbor data centers are making donations to the local Food Gatherers organization. In the Flint area, employees at our Mid-Michigan Data Center are working with the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan.

We tell you this not to pat ourselves on the back, but to encourage you to join our fundraising efforts.

The Feeding America network of food banks provides more than 3.3 billion meals to virtually every community in the United States. Every donation – big or small – helps feed hungry children and families. You can find a food bank in your area on the Feeding America website.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

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Michigan Council of Women in Technology Event

Online Tech will be sponsoring the Michigan Council of Women in Technology’s Mid Michigan ConnectNet Social on December 3rd, and we’d love to have you join us! It will be taking place at the Spartan Hall of Fame Cafe in Lansing from 5pm to 7:30pm. This will be a wonderful networking event to see some of your colleagues and fellow IT professionals before the holidays, so stop by!

The Michigan Council of Women in Technology started in 2000 as a group for women who were focused on their tech careers. Now it has grown to include youth summer camps, college and graduate school scholarships, and professional networking events. Their goal? To make Michigan the number one state for women in technology.

If you are interested in attending this event, feel free to show up! There is no charge for members, and only a $10 fee for non-members. To register, head over to the MCWT ConnectNet Social registration page.

If you can’t make it to the social, consider volunteering or mentoring for young women through this wonderful organization. Also, they boast great eLearning resources to help guide the professional development of women in technology. Help grow the IT field with MCWT!

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