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February 07, 2012

Bare Metal Restore and Cloud Backup

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Bare Metal Restore in the CloudI’m in my seventh year working on cloud-delivered backup solutions, and I’m still struck by the number of times I hear potential customers asking if they can use cloud backup solution to do a Bare Metal Restore (BMR).
 
While the short answer is “yes,” the longer answer also includes “but you probably don’t want to do that.”
 

The Lure of Online Backup

Disaster recovery is the real advantage of online backup.
 

  • They all automatically combine disaster recovery with backup, since the backups are stored offsite at the cloud provider’s data center.
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  • The better cloud backup options completely automate both backup and restore, removing what historically has been a complex, order- and process-intensive, manual task.
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  • The very best-in-class solutions will automatically create rich version histories, and also provide you with a secured, online replica copy of your data, that you can access from anywhere using just an Internet browser.

 

Physics and Economics of the Cloud

However, these solutions, no matter how robust, cannot circumvent the laws of physics. The reality is that you will be using your Internet connection as a conduit to move large data sets. This prescribes slightly modified best practices, including reconsidering the benefits of bare metal restores.
 
The value of a BMR is clear — if you lose a server, you can quickly and easily spin up a (slightly dated, but near-identical) replacement using the complete image of the original. However, a complete system image backup is bloated with a lot of non-unique data — data that is not really “yours” nor is it uniquely important to your business — operating system files, dlls, application data, etc. All of that is replaceable with no loss of the core information that is vital to your business.
 
Bare Metal Restore User Data
 
Most cloud-delivered backup solutions charge by the amount of data you have stored with them, which gives you incentive to back up only the data that you can’t easily replace. Also, you need to use your bandwidth to get the data to the cloud provider’s data center (even if the cloud provider doesn’t charge you for the transfers). And most importantly, it is far quicker to re-install a complete, running operating system on a replacement server than it is to restore it over the Internet.
 

Online Backup & Restore

What works best is to ensure that you back up only your unique data to the cloud — the server’s system state and the user-generated data and databases that reside on it — and not the rest of the data that can be easily replaced. In the event that you lose a server, you can get a new one, install your golden image OS on it, reinstall the system state of the original, and then restore the data to it. This is the most-efficient way to bring a replacement server on line, have it rejoin the domain seamlessly, and be back up and working quickly. Note that this also avoids the all-too-common issue of trying to restore to dissimilar hardware (a simple Google search can show you how frequently this becomes an immovable obstacle).
 
In essence, you are replacing your bare-metal restore boot CD/DVD with your operating system install DVD.
 

Zetta Online Backup & Restore

Here’s how you can do this using Zetta’s Web-based System Management Portal: in the System Configuration tab for the server, make sure you have populated the “System State Backup” input box with the main drive letter, and then make sure you have the appropriate data identified to replicate offsite. In this image, we are backing up “My Documents” and a SQL Server instance:
 
Bare Metal Restore Setup
 
Then, if you need to restore the data, you can either use Zetta’s Restore wizard, or you can simply browse the Zetta file system and grab the data you need. This image shows this using Zetta’s embedded web-based file browser tool:
 
Bare Metal Restore Zetta Recovery
 

Summary

In sum, cloud backup using modern approaches yields a ton of benefits — lowering costs and simplifying processes — but it does require some different strategies around how to best protect your environment.
 
You can download a copy of the Bare Metal Restore in the Cloud How-to Guide here.
 

Chris Schin
About the Author Chris is Zetta.net's vice president of products, responsible for product strategy, direction, and marketing.
Zetta.net is an enterprise-grade cloud and local backup, archiving, and disaster recovery solution for small- and midsize businesses, MSPs, and VARs.
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